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Why UT-Austin Shouldn’t Raise Its Tuition   1 comment

The Texas Tribune


Guest Column: Why UT-Austin Shouldn’t Raise Its Tuition


University of Texas System Regent, Alex Cranberg

University of Texas System Regent, Alex Cranberg

The University of Texas System is an extraordinary institution. It educates more than 200,000 students, mostly from Texas, and it conducts an enormous amount of groundbreaking research. The cumulative impact of the education of young people and the research output of the thousands of brilliant faculty is prodigious and valuable. I could not be prouder of the University of Texas diploma on my wall, representing as it does not only knowledge and thinking skills gained but also the symbol of the four joyous and challenging years I spent growing as a person and learning about myself and others. What a gift the founders of Texas gave our state in establishing “a University of the first class.” It is a special privilege for me to serve on my university system‘s board of regents (although the views expressed here are mine personally and not necessarily those of other board members).

Over the 35 years since I graduated, many measures of the quality of UT-Austin have grown dramatically. But tuition has also increased — by more than 80 percent over just the past eight years. I am forever grateful to the university and to the state of Texas for giving me the opportunity to be able to pay my own way through school and graduate almost debt free. Today’s students are not typically so lucky.

It is fashionable to blame higher tuition on legislative tight-fistedness, but the facts simply do not support that charge.  Nationally, state support for higher education has roughly kept pace with general inflation over the past 20 years. Some pushing for higher student tuition tend to point out that state support of higher education has dropped substantially as a share of total revenues. That is true, but only because educational costs have increased much faster than inflation and federally funded research budgets have grown substantially, making state support naturally account for a much smaller portion of the entire budget.

At UT-Austin, generous philanthropists and state-granted lands have endowed the university with extraordinary additional pillars of support that other institutions could only dream about. Even intercollegiate athletics, often a loss-maker, provide meaningful support for academic programs. Finally, a little-noticed change in the admissions practice at UT-Austin is shifting many slots previously allocated to Texas residents, who pay $10,000 per year, to nonresidents, who pay $33,000 per year.

During the past 10 years, after inflation, investment income and university funds available for operations (i.e., over and above capital expenditures) have grown by $2,100 per student. State support has dropped by only $1,300 per student, partly due to nonresident students not being subsidized by the state. Roughly two-thirds of state funding cuts are either tied to or offset by increased nonresident tuition. The $3,300-per-year tuition increase families are already paying is simply not justified by reductions in state support — and nor is possibility of further increases.

The public is told by some that holding the line on tuition will imperil much-needed student programs, hold back research or result in a “dumbing down” of the university. The actual data demonstrate that this is a fundamentally misleading position. Instructional revenues are going up, even without tuition increases. State funding cuts are frequently cited by those asking for more money from students — despite the negative consequences of even higher tuition on student access. Yes, there are plenty of students willing to pay the tuition at UT even if it increased further. But is that what the founders of Texas had in mind for their “University of the first class”? The Texas Constitution does not famously promise its citizens a “University of the upper class.”

We can earn financial support from other parts of society than students facing an uncertain job market. We can enhance learning productivity, better reward our faculty and have an even bigger positive influence on the world by harnessing technology even more innovatively than we do now. We do not need to increase tuition.

It is a competitive world. I love the University of Texas too much to see others take the lead. I expect the Texas Legislature, the University of Texas System and our many dedicated, inspired faculty, staff and administrators will continue to work together to find ways actually to cut students’ outlay and increase quality of learning so that UT students may be even more blessed by the UT opportunity than I have been.

Alex Cranberg sits on the University of Texas System Board of Regents.


Alex Cranberg Interviewed – Seen in New York Times   5 comments

A Lightning Rod on U.T. Board, Regent Is Not Deterred

On Feb. 12, Gene Powell, the chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, sent a note to Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the U.T. System, about the newest regents appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. The new members “all have extensive experience in higher education and all of them are hard core conservatives. And none of them are shy. We will see no ‘break in’ period from these individuals,” he wrote.

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

“If I read some of the stuff about me that I read in the paper, I’d be against me,” said Alex Cranberg, regent of the University of Texas System.

It was an early hint of the changes afoot at the U.T. board and the tense months — some of the most tumultuous in institutional memory, with the regents seemingly pitted against the flagship university in a highly public spat — that lay ahead. Of that new crop of board members, none have received more scrutiny than Alex Cranberg.

Sitting in the student center at the University of Texas campus in Austin in early June, Mr. Cranberg, the 56-year-old chairman of Aspect Holdings, a lucrative energy company based in Denver, said the time had come to “push a reset button” on the relationship between the regents and the leadership of the university.

Individuals who encountered Mr. Cranberg as an undergraduate student at U.T. — he received a degree in petroleum engineering in 1977 — remember him as a spirited debater who enjoyed challenging others and being challenged in return.

And it may not be what he expected, but he has certainly been challenged lately.

Suspicion has surrounded Mr. Cranberg from Day 1. First, there was the speed with which he became a regent — one of the most prestigious appointments a governor can bestow upon a Texan. Mr. Cranberg received the nod just two weeks after registering to vote in the state following a move from Colorado for personal reasons.

“Frankly, I’ve got a lot going on and would not have moved specifically for this job,” he said.

Then there were his associations. Mr. Cranberg is a longtime friend of Jeff Sandefer, the Austin energy investor who wrote a controversial set of seven proposals for changing higher education and has promoted them with Mr. Perry’s aid. “I don’t expect anybody to tell me what to do and have me do it,” Mr. Cranberg said.

Of all the regents, Mr. Cranberg was the one closest to Rick O’Donnell, a fellow former Coloradoan and an associate of Mr. Sandefer who had publicly questioned the value of academic research. The U.T. System’s hiring of Mr. O’Donnell as a special adviser to the board was one of the sparks that lit the statewide controversy. (Mr. O’Donnell’s employment was terminated after 49 days, during which he was “unfairly attacked,” Mr. Cranberg said.)

At the height of the debate, Mr. Cranberg was widely considered by critics in the Legislature and the academic community to be the ringleader of a bloc of regents who were influenced by Mr. Sandefer and others aiming to, among other things, stage an attack on academic research and coordinate an ouster of U.T.’s president, William Powers Jr. Most recently, after a request for extensive data on all the faculty members in the system, Mr. Cranberg was accused by the same groups of trying to micromanage the universities.

“If I read some of the stuff about me that I read in the paper, I’d be against me,” said Mr. Cranberg, who denied all the details of what he called a “caricature.”

When Mr. Cranberg heard that his data request was overwhelming the small staff at the University of Texas-Pan American, he asked the university’s president, Robert S. Nelsen, to write a grant proposal for him to personally finance. “It surprised me very much,” Mr. Nelsen said. “It was a very generous offer on his part.”

When asked if other universities shared concerns publicly expressed by many in Austin about the data, Mr. Nelsen said: “I know my faculty are concerned and my staff are concerned. We’re not worried, but we would like a better idea of what the data will be used for.”

Mr. Cranberg said that his grant offer, which ultimately was not accepted, was as symbolic as it was sincere. “I want to show that I’m willing to share the sacrifice,” he said. “I expect it to be symbolically understood that I’m not asking for stuff out of some arrogant desire to be given whatever I want.”

Mr. Cranberg has a long history of investing in causes he cares about. In Colorado, when a school voucher initiative he backed failed, he joined with others to create the Alliance for Choice in Education, a nonprofit group that provides scholarships to schoolchildren. An advocate of expanding pathways to citizenship for immigrants, Mr. Cranberg paid $10,000 to conduct a poll in his Colorado district just to confirm his belief that he was not an anomaly in the Republican Party.

“I’ve got two kinds of energy,” he said. “I’ve got my own personal energy inside my body, and I’ve got this stored energy that’s called financial resources or cash. I intend to use both up as fully as humanly possible by the time I die.”

Mr. Cranberg, the son of a prominent physicist, grew up in the world of academia, which he said influenced him greatly, as did work toward an M.B.A. from Stanford University. His stint on the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan State College of Denver, from 2002 to 2007, informs much of his behavior as a regent.

“I saw some things there that I wish I’d done differently, and I don’t like to ever look back on something I did and wish I’d done things better,” he said.

On the Denver board, he said, he learned of the “critical importance” of data, especially granular information that one can “slice and dice” different ways.

“That’s not micromanagement,” he said. “That’s just good analysis.”

His requests for data are not likely to subside, despite the complaints. He said he intended to ask for detailed data on faculty peer reviews. He anticipates that the request could be “burdensome,” but also informative.

Of a controversial, widely publicized study by Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, which used unverified data to allege that U.T. functions inefficiently, Mr. Cranberg called the analysis “simplistic.”

Still, while the criticisms of the report resonate with him, so do Mr. Vedder’s concerns. Mr. Cranberg said he hoped to “win the hearts and minds” of those who still had reservations about his intentions as he sought to address those concerns. That the Legislature created a new higher-education oversight committee in response to the continuing controversy might indicate that he has a long way to go.

Mr. Cranberg said he welcomed the new oversight committee, which some conservative bloggers have strongly criticized, and said he believed that most of its members were aligned with his vision.

“I’m the one that’s been arguing for transparency,” he said, “so why should I argue about going before some legislative committee?”

The most important issue moving forward, Mr. Cranberg said, is which groups will rally together “post reset” to embrace the changes that he believes must happen. He added, though, that he and the other regents would not relinquish their responsibilities “just because they’re being critical, especially if they’re being critical of something we don’t even recognize as our position.”

See NYTIMES article

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