The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is giving headaches to some of the state’s lawmakers, but it may be a self-inflicted ailment. In 2013, the Legislature scaled back the panel’s regulatory powers in an effort to give university leaders more of a role in determining what’s best for their students and institutions.
Lawmakers now think it’s time to restore some of the coordinating board’s power. A few bills are working their way through the Legislature that would let the board resume the position of being able to block schools from taking on projects it finds wasteful or overly ambitious.
“There’s this idea that universities are self-interested and some lawmakers feel like the schools pursue their own interests as opposed to the interests of the state,” says Texas Tribune Education Reporter Matthew Watkins.
He says lawmakers are frustrated with rising tuition costs and questionable projects. These include the University of Texas System’s $200 million land acquisition in Houston, based on undefined plans; Texas A&M University’s desire to develop a campus in McAllen despite the presence of the University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley, nearby; and numerous universities that want to build medical campuses.
“Higher education is one of the few realms where different agencies and groups are really competing with each other,” Watkins says.
Universities across the state are competing for the same students and faculty, which can create tension between campuses. Lawmakers are concerned that schools are expanding too quickly in their efforts to set themselves apart from one another.
Raymund Paredes, the coordinating board’s commissioner, told Watkins that the board has learned from its past mistakes and recognizes the importance of listening to stakeholder input.
“I think they would like to see some of those regulatory powers come back into their umbrella in order to address some of the problems that they see,” Watkins says.
Even though the session is almost over, Watkins says it’s hard to say what will happen to the bills.
“There hasn’t been much opposition, but there’s a limited amount of time and a lot of bills so you never know which one is going to make it through and which one’s not,” he says.
Written by Molly Smith.