Perry under scrutiny over higher education
Published: Sunday, August 28, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
Gov. Rick Perry's record on higher education has been under fire for most of his term as the longest-serving Texas governor, but his new "Seven Breakthroughs for Higher Education" has fueled the flame, and his presidential campaign is forcing the battle onto the national stage.
Perry has been unpopular in education circles for several years, particularly due to his frequent cutting of education budgets.
"Governor Perry is dismantling higher education as we know it," Ken Buckman, president of the Texas Faculty, said. "There are shrinking budgets in Texas, due in large part by the predominant political party's efforts to downsize revenue sources, and higher education and all of education is being hurt by shortsighted policies."
Higher education has taken massive hits in Texas in recent years, including a loss of $518,424,781 in the 2010 – 2011 biennial budget, and another nine percent across-the-board cut for the 2012 – 2013 budget.
Dominic Chavez, senior director of the office of external relations for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said Texas has made "great strides" in higher education under Perry's leadership despite the budget cuts, citing statistics from his office's "Closing the Gaps" initiative.
He said Texas had "greatly increased" college enrollment since 2000, when 4.9 percent of the population was enrolled in higher education. Today, 5.9 percent of the population attends a college or university, and Chavez said these numbers reflect a significantly higher percentage of minority students.
Chavez also said that Texas has seen "dramatic increases" in college readiness under Perry, citing statistics from 2002 when only 15 percent of Texas high school students who took the ACT Test were meeting college readiness benchmarks, whereas 24 percent of students met them this year.
"To be clear, 24 percent is not something to be proud of, that is woefully under performing," Chavez said, mentioning that the national overage is at 25 percent. He also said the increase was an "all hands on deck effort" and that he could not say how much of it could legitimately be attributed to Perry.
But Mary Dean, the executive director of the Texas Faculty Association said these numbers were flawed because they only considered students who had taken the ACT and did not include students who did not take the test or did not plan on going to college in the first place.
"I just don't think [the increase in college readiness] is happening," she said, recalling her years spent teaching at a community college in South Texas, where she taught from 1996 through 2006. "The quality of my students definitely dropped. They are not being prepared, and Perry's cuts to the budget are one of the reasons why."
Since Perry took office as governor in early 2001, severe education cuts have also resulted in a drastic increase in the cost of tuition, said SMU Texas politics professor Cal Jillson.
"Texas has traditionally had among the lowest tuition costs in the United States. Up to World War II it was free, and then from the 40s to the 70s it was incredibly low. Only in the last decade has it sprung up," he said.
Jillson said Perry's record on budget cutting was something to worry about should he win the presidency, even though he wouldn't have the "same direct leverage on state education as he does as governor."
"If he really engaged in serious budget cutting, like he has in Texas, we would have to be worried about federal programs like Pell grants, which are the only reason some students are able to attend college," he said.
Cary Wintz, a history professor at Texas Southern University disagreed with the idea that budget cutting was the reason for suffering higher education. He said he believed the budget cuts had no effect on the suffering public education sector.
"Perry has certainly cut our budget, but we face bigger issues than that," Wintz said. "Rick Perry didn't create this monster."
Wintz said college readiness and he success of universities had nothing to do with money allotted to schools but instead attributed the poor numbers to structural problems within public education. What he did take issue with, however, is the "Seven Breakthroughs" that Rick Perry has come to support.
The "Seven Breakthroughs" came as a result of a tight budget in Texas and questions as to whether professors are using the state's money effectively, and was formulated by the conservative-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). The proposal advocates running colleges and universities like businesses and for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix.
This has caused a large divide in those involved in higher education, especially in regards to Perry's support of the TPPF's suggestion that research at universities should be split from education, which many professors see as an effort to undermine academic research at universities.
"Running a university like a business is ridiculous," Wintz said. "Since social sciences or arts research doesn't generate a lot of money, should that just go away? Should we just focus on research that will make money for universities? I think that is a mistake."