“We haven’t the time to take our time.”
- Eugene Ionesco
One year ago, I made certain challenges, laid out particular goals, and asked that we—as a System of colleges and universities—pick up the pace. To be sure, change is certain—progress, is not. Yet, we are moving in the right direction, and at a good clip. Let me begin with a bit of a brag, because the more you know about higher education, the better we look.
• The Texas State University System, along with the A&M System, maintains the lowest average tuition and fees of any university system in Texas. Our average tuition and fees are 18 percent lower than the state average.
• We have made it convenient for students to transfer into our institutions. In fact, about 38 percent of all System graduates are transfer students, among the highest in the state.
• We announced the development of a $10,000 baccalaureate degree to be offered by Sul Ross-Rio Grande College and Southwest Texas Junior College in the fields of chemistry, biology, and mathematics.
• More than 80 percent of our graduates are employed or in graduate school upon graduation—the highest percentage of any Texas university system.
• The Texas State University System produces more than 16,000 degrees and certificates each year, a 76 percent increase over the past decade. This growth in degree production exceeds the state’s average growth by almost 50 percent.
• Our graduates have an average debt of $13,000 per graduate—comparatively low among university systems in Texas. This is especially significant given that approximately 70 percent of our graduates are at-risk students. (An at-risk student is defined as having received a Pell Grant; or, being over the age of 20 when beginning studies; or, being part-time; or, scoring lower than the national average on the ACT/SAT.)
• The System’s average annual appropriation per degree awarded is 28 percent lower than the state’s average. Indeed, we do more—with less—with better result than any other university system in Texas, and perhaps the nation.
• The System’s enrollment has grown by nearly 50 percent over the past decade, almost one-third higher than the average growth in the state.
• The six-year graduation rate in the System has grown by 37 percent over the past decade, far exceeding the changes in the state average rate.
• Our institutions have outsourced functions such as food services and bookstores, saving millions, and we are aggressively investigating other outsourcing opportunities.
“Of all the threats to the institution, the most dangerous come from within. Not the least among them is the smugness that believes the institution’s value is so self-evident that it no longer needs explication, its mission is so manifest that it no longer requires definition and articulation.”
- A. Bartlett Giamatti
In the Picking Up the Pace document of last year, the following challenges were laid out. Here is how we have fared, so far.
• Require merit evaluation systems based on quality outcomes across the System.
Result: Merit evaluations are now being used throughout the System.
• Reduce the hours in programs which require more than the mandated 120 hours to graduate.
Result: We are reducing the number of programs requiring more than 120 hours and we are reducing the total number of hours in the programs that do require more than 120 hours. Most programs over 120 hours require less than 125 hours.
• Assure that all institutions have a credible and reliable process for evaluating teaching and advising.
Result: These processes now exist on each campus.
• Assure that all programs have learning outcomes with indicators of success which provide feedback for improvement.
Result: All institutions have learning outcomes as specified.
• Seek greater collaboration across the System.
Result: We have created two system-wide research institutes. The Institute for the Study of Invasive Species at Sam Houston State University combines the research interests of approximately 60 professors from across our System. The Energy Institute at Lamar University holds great promise for collaborative research efforts in transitional energy resources and energy storage technologies. In addition, we are studying the creation of collaborative research efforts in water resources and in digital security. The System Office is developing Councils for Cooperation among the System institutions including the Council of Institutional Research Officers, Instructional Research Officers, and Chief Assessment Officers. We appointed Bill Angrove of Sam Houston State University as Director of Online Education for The Texas State University System. In addition to his duties at SHSU, he will advise the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs on all matters relating to online education. He will also organize a council of Chief Officers for Online Education from System institutions. We have created the Office of Institutional Research which will provide cohesive, standardized and efficient reporting of TSUS institutional data. As such, the System Office has contracted with the Office of Institutional Research at Texas State University to provide institutional research services for the System Office.
• Assure that all technologies developed at our institutions are commercialized to the optimal degree possible.
Result: Successful efforts to commercialize research are occurring at all of our senior institutions. Texas State University and Sam Houston State University are starting new Commercialization and Research Parks and Lamar University is continuing such efforts through its Centers on Commercialization.
• Increase graduation rates.
Result: There has been an increase in six year graduation rates at most institutions. Our two largest institutions, Texas State University and Sam Houston State University, are among the top six universities of the 38 senior institutions in Texas in this category. Still, we need to better understand why those who leave our institutions without earning degrees do so.
• Increase retention rates.
Result: We have mostly positive results on this goal with retention rates up at Sul Ross State and Sam Houston State, maintained at a high level at Texas State, and down a bit at Lamar University.
• Reduce low producing programs.
Result: Low producing programs have been eliminated, merged with other programs, or have implemented Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved marketing and recruitment strategies to increase enrollment in those programs.
• Create detailed, campus-specific plans of action to improve environmental efficiencies.
Result: Sul Ross State University has completely re-engineered its campus heating system, installing new high efficiency boilers in 15 campus buildings, and has updated and expanded its energy management systems. The project is expected to result in average annual savings of at least $300,000 due to increased energy efficiency. Further, in compliance with the legislative mandate of a five percent annual reduction in electricity usage, each new TSUS project is required to incorporate design elements geared to decreasing energy usage. Texas State University’s Nursing Building at the Round Rock campus was awarded LEED Silver certification, and at least two other Texas State University projects under construction are expected to attain this same level of recognition. Many projects that are not submitted for LEED certification contain design features inspired by LEED standards. Sam Houston State University and Lamar State College-Port Arthur also began capital projects this year to install energy efficient retrofits and controls in lieu of proceeding with energy performance contracts. This is just a beginning…
• Assure that all assets are being optimally utilized.
Result: Space is being highly utilized by all System institutions. For example, Texas State University has the highest utilization of its space among the 38 senior institutions in Texas. We are committed to being even more efficient in our utilization of space by using more online and hybrid instruction, increasing classroom use in underutilized times (weekends and evenings), and breaking down territorial and departmental exclusive claims to classrooms—all of which can reduce demand for additional space. Approximately one-third of all credit hours at Lamar University are generated through online courses. Online enrollments at Sam Houston State University are up by 500 percent since 2006 and will represent 14 percent of all student credit hours next year. Finally, the most valuable and expensive resource in the System—the faculty—are being very well utilized in that System faculty teach on average 20 percent more student credit hours than the state average.
• Reach new heights in fundraising.
Result: Texas State University, Sam Houston State University, and Lamar University have each raised funds in excess of $100 million in their respective capital campaigns. Sul Ross has raised over $1 million for the Borderlands and Research Institute.
In the year ahead, let us continue to make progress in each of these areas and work for improvements in others:
• Specifically, the System Office is researching a system-wide purchasing program that could allow our component institutions to save millions on routine and non-routine purchases.
• We are aggressively pursuing a major initiative to introduce e-texts (replacing the traditional, expensive textbooks), which has the potential to save millions for our students.
• Further, we are examining in detail all aspects of how planning and construction is accomplished on our campuses and within our system as compared to best practices at other public higher education systems. In a time of decreased participation from the state and increased demand for space with growing student enrollments, every penny saved is of increasing importance. It is essential that we deliver the facilities needed by our institutions as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. This includes streamlining processes and cutting down the time it takes to build. In the overall arithmetic, we must find the resources to build where we must, without waste.
• Debt-financing of capital projects is essential to our continuing ability to construct and equip facilities in support of our academic and student-service functions. Debt capacity may be measured in terms of physical limits or—more likely—in terms of cost restrictions that limit the availability of debt. As campus needs grow, one challenge will be that of allocating debt resources among competing interests in a fair and rational way. Therefore, we will develop a debt-allocation strategy that projects our debt capacity, allocates the debt resource among the diverse needs of our campuses, and recommends options where the demand for debt exceeds the available supply. Options may include alternative ways to accommodate physical growth through private partnerships.
In the past year, we have assessed our tasks and picked up our pace in addressing these challenges. Now that the pace has been set, we know what we must continue to do. The future is the result of what we do now. Each day we sow the seeds that we must one day harvest. It is this continuous commitment to a long-term vision of excellence that will keep our colleges and universities moving forward and setting the pace for others in higher education. Let us advance in all areas. It is time for The Texas State University System to set the pace.
Our work is important.
The needs are great.