|Thursday, February 18, 1999||
Volume 64, Issue 96
SA discusses wheelchair campaign and student spirit
to go 'Back to Basics'
'99 initiative hopes to raise state graduation rates by 23 percent
By Miriam Garcia
Top officials from Texas' public universities joined again this legislative session to request a budget increase that will benefit the entire state as a remedy to the problem of low graduation and retention rates.
The "Back to Basics '99" initiative, created by the Texas Higher Education Coalition, is designed to increase graduation and retention rates in order to provide Texas with the number of skilled workers it needs to enjoy economic stability in the future.
Because Texas public universities are 23 percent behind the national average of producing college graduates, the program seeks to increase the number of bachelor degrees awarded by 16,100 a year -- which would put the state on par with the rest of the country.
Those numbers concerned higher education officials, who worry that Texas' lagging graduation rates will produce a growing proportion of unskilled, undereducated citizens who may not be able to meet the demands of the future workplace.
Industry leaders say they need the help of higher education to meet the demands of high-technology jobs.
This year, the coalition is requesting $994 million for public universities and health-related institutions and an additional $201 million for student financial assistance. If approved, the funding would support an increase in the number of full-time faculty, reduce the student-faculty ratio, attract and retain sponsored research and increase salaries for faculty and staff.
During its previous session, the Legislature provided nearly $600 million of the Coalition's $926 million request.
"Graduation and retention rates are not where we want them to be," said Grover Campbell, UH vice chancellor for Governmental Relations. "With additional resources, we will be able to provide faculty and mentors to sustain enrollment success."
In general, the Back to Basics approach seeks to provide accessible and affordable education for students. Officials hope to meet that goal by 2002, six years from the initiative's inception.
"Back to Basics is intended to increase enrollment and graduation rates in 1997 in four to six years," explained Charles E. McMahen, UH System Board of Regents chairman.
Campbell agreed that the results of the Back to Basics programs will not be immediately apparent.
"The work that has been done in the past two or three years will not start bearing fruit until another two or three years," he said.
In the meantime, aside from his work with Back to Basics, UHS Chancellor/UH President Arthur K. Smith has been working with the presidents of the other System universities to present UH-specific concerns to legislators.
Smith and the three other UHS presidents answered questions Tuesday for the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol about the UHS budget request.
"We made a good case and were well-received," Smith said. "UH is specially interested in flagship excellence for the UH main campus."
Flagship status, or becoming a premier research institution, is one of Smith's major agenda items this legislative session. In a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education last week, Smith said the state needs to funnel more money into research programs in order to strengthen the economic base.
UH's goal is to become a Tier One research university, meaning that the school would draw more prominent faculty members and students as well as more research grants. Texas has two flagship research institutions -- Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin -- while California has 10, New York has eight, and Massachusetts has five.
"It is surprising to see that other states have significantly more Tier
One research universities than we do," Smith told the House subcommittee.
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