With another big school in Texas leaving the Big 12 Athletic Conference, a decades-old issue is resurfacing.
The multi-billion dollar Permanent University Fund, or PUF, was not officially on the agenda at Monday’s Texas Senate Select Committee Hearing on the Future of College Sports in Texas. But it was discussed several times during the almost seven-hour long meeting, with Lubbock-area legislators Rep. Dustin Burrows and State Sen. Charles Perry saying bills are in the works to address what they see as a disparity in higher education funding.
The PUF generates money from millions of acres of state-owned West Texas land and gives it to certain public universities east of Interstate 35. The fund was established in the Texas Constitution — and it only benefits the two university systems that were around in 1876. That leaves out several other institutions in the state.
“The University of Texas System receives two-thirds and Texas A&M University receives one-third,” the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce’s Kyle Jacobson explained. “No other public institution of higher education in the state of Texas receives a dime of this money.”
An analysis found that, as of June 2021, the value of the PUF exceeds $30 billion. In the last academic year, $360 million of the University of Texas at Austin’s $3 billion budget came from this money pot.
Jacobson, an Austin-area transplant who now advocates for West Texas, said even his friends who are UT alumni think this should be updated.
So what would that take? Because it’s in the constitution, Texans would have to vote to change who the PUF benefits. Texans last voted for constitutional amendments in 2019 and eight possible changes will be on the ballot this November. Of the 690 amendments Texans have voted on since 1876, nearly 75% have passed.
Jacobson said it’s worth putting on a ballot.
“We need to have a second look at this and say, ‘Is this fund benefiting the entire state of Texas and all of our students that are at higher education institutions, or only a select few?’”
This issue is coming up again because the University of Texas at Austin will leave the Big 12 by 2025 and Texas A&M University left in 2011. Critics say the already wealthy school systems don’t need all of the money coming from the PUF and it should instead be distributed more evenly. Especially to schools that may be financially impacted by their decision to leave the Big 12, like Texas Tech. The private universities left in the Big 12, Texas Christian University and Baylor University, would not benefit if the PUF structure changed.
When asked if now is the time to reconsider PUF distribution, the Texas Tech University System said in a statement: “The Texas Tech University System component universities appreciate the funding each receives from the state. We understand the Legislature reviews funding for institutions of higher education every biennium and will continue to appropriately evaluate state funding for higher education.”
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