Senator Seliger heads higher education committee

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A surprise reshuffling of Senate committee chairmanships earlier this month left state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, a position he says he will go into with a fresh perspective.

Seliger said despite his legislative experience in higher education being limited to his service on a higher education oversight committee in 2011, the topic is of clear interest to him.

“I don’t know what to expect. This is my first standing committee chair position, and I’m just looking forward to it,” Seliger said. “Higher education is an interesting and important topic and I have already started discussions with people in higher education institutions and the experience has been very absorbent.”

Seliger said one of the issues he will bring up for discussion during the 2013 legislative session, which will begin in January, is the effectiveness of the Top 10 Percent Rule.

“We are going to discuss the [Top 10 program] — what it does and what it does not do,” Seliger said. “The law is there to increase minority enrollment, which I think is a very good idea. I don’t think it really works to do that. If so, then we should do away with it.”

The Top 10 program guarantees admission to public universities in Texas based on high school class rank.

Seliger has been in the Texas Senate for eight years, during which time he has served on various Senate committees, including one on public education.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said he believes Seliger will be a quick study in his new position.

“He’s already reached out to me to talk about higher education issues,” Branch said. “We told him we would have an open door and pass him as much information about policy issues and the things we have been working on.”

Branch said he will work closely with Seliger to maintain the level of Tier One universities in the state and ease the transfer process from community colleges to four-year institutions. Tier One status identifies schools with significant research programs but has no concrete definition.

Although bills for the upcoming legislative session have not officially been filed yet, Seliger said he expects higher education funding to be another widely discussed issue in the Senate.

“We are really going to have to address funding,” Seliger said. “Higher education is important, and it’s expensive.”

He said he hopes institutions can develop satisfactory performance metrics that will allow the state to move away from enrollment-based financing and toward an approach that considers student outcomes.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is the previous chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, where she served since its formation in 2009. She said she has had extensive talks with Seliger to discuss the current issues in higher education, a fact Seliger said is a sign of a good working relationship.

“I was on her committee for higher education oversight and we worked together on legislation on other areas before so this will just sort of fit seamlessly with the work we have done together in the past,” Seliger said.