Abbott signs higher education research initiative

Anderson Boyd

Calling it a day of celebration, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Thursday his University Research Initiative, which will seek to provide higher education institutions statewide the necessary funding to attract esteemed researchers from around the nation and globe.

“We want to elevate the higher education colleges and universities in Texas to be ranked number one in the United States of America,” said Abbott, surrounded by representatives from higher education institutions around the state, including System Chancellor William McRaven and UT President Gregory Fenves.

The initiative, which Abbott deemed an “emergency item” during the last legislative session, seeks to provide Texas colleges and universities with more than $8 billion in bonds and funding to promote research, compensate researchers and build facilities that will attract both the current and next generation of high-class students and faculty.

University spokesperson Gary Susswein said the legislation included in the initiative only allows the University to hire faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and in medicine, although he hopes the fund will benefit the entire student body.

“The governor's fund will allow UT to attract even more renowned faculty members who will conduct game-changing research; teach our students and provide them with new opportunities to participate in these research projects; and then help us attract other top faculty and students to be part of these efforts,” Susswein said in an email. “We hope all students benefit from being in such a dynamic academic environment.”

Abbott’s initiative will allow Texas colleges and universities access to more than $4 billion to attract Nobel laureates and National Academy members to act as faculty, in addition to the funding already granted to them in the state’s two-year budgeting cycle. The initiative requires the state to match any amount state colleges and universities already raised to attract such faculty as well.

Colleges and universities will also have access to $3 billion in bonds and allowances to build research and other facilities to better attract students as well as faculty. The state will also provide another $1 billion to promote research done at state institutions as well as to attract what Abbott called the “next generation of Nobel laureates and National Academy members” to attend Texas higher education institutions.

Abbott also stressed the importance of making higher education more affordable for students. His initiative will allow a score of three or higher on any Advanced Placement test to count for college credit, whereas UT formerly set its own policies regarding AP scores. It will also seek to facilitate coordination and collaboration between institutions to better allow credits to transfer from one institution to another.

“Oftentimes, students begin the higher education process at a community college or a two-year college program only to find after they complete a course there the class that they take is not accepted at the higher education institution they go to, meaning they have to pay more money to take that course again — a course they’ve already completed,” Abbott said.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), whom Abbott called a powerful advocate for higher education, was also present for the signing. She said Abbott is the first governor since John Connally in the 1960s to be committed to the excellence of higher education in Texas.

“Matching funds from the state will help UT attract additional top world-class researchers and scientists, helping ensure it remains 'a University of the first class,’” Zaffirini said in an email. “Clearly, [Abbott] understands the importance and role of academic research.”