I certainly do not consider myself to be an expert on Texas, but I recently had the opportunity to learn more about current issues and trends in higher education in that state. I was very surprised to learn that a state as large and populous as Texas has only three Tier 1 research universities: University Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, and Rice University. Compare this with our own state of California with nine major research universities, six of them publicly supported.
Texas realizes the importance of major research universities, especially in supporting the economic vitality of a region and state. With only three Tier 1 universities, Texas is “exporting” a high percentage of its best students to other states. The president of the University of Texas at Dallas outlined additional concerns in this executive summary.
In 2009 new legislation was enacted in Texas to fund one or more Tier 1 research universities in the state. Currently seven “emerging research universities” are competing for funding to make it to Tier 1.
I found it both gratifying and a little scary that California was frequently cited as a state that “did it right” by organizing its system of higher education via the 1960 “Master Plan,” and dedicating significant public funding, as reflected in this editorial by Holly K. Hacker.
As a native Californian, I am proud of what we (and our parents and grandparents) have accomplished together as taxpayers. But I am also a bit scared. Are we backtracking now? Are we jeopardizing a system that is the envy of the world? Are we going to let Texas (or any other state) leave us in the dust?
I encountered another surprise in my reading on this topic. Los Angeles and the immediately surrounding region boasts four AAU (Association of American Universities) institutions: UCLA (I list us first, of course—sorry Trojans), USC, Caltech and UC Irvine.
Along with Tier 1 status, AAU membership is one of the most prestigious endorsements a university can achieve. Boston, a metropolitan area particularly well-regarded for its institutions of higher learning, has three AAU institutions (all of them private). I appreciate the reminder that Los Angeles is not only the “sunshine and entertainment capital,” but is an intellectual powerhouse as well. (And let’s try to keep it that way.)