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Coalition Publishes Study Touting Flagship Universities

KUT News

A group that formed in 2011 in response to a prominent push for higher education policy proposals it viewed as misguided released a report on Thursday that makes a case for the value of the state's flagship universities: the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education report was written by Michael McLendon, a professor of higher education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University. He previously worked at Vanderbilt University, where he completed much of the work on the report.

Jenifer Sarver, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said the group commissioned the report because it wanted a substantive, data-driven conversation about the value of the state's top-tier public research universities. She said that among the universities' supporters, as the statewide debate on reforming higher education has continued, there has been "a real desire to not just raise a fist and criticize others who are raising important questions."

In the report, McLendon used national data to compare institutions and found that the two flagship universities are a bargain relative to their peers — UT charges about $1,000 less than the average tuition and fees in the peer group, while A&M charges roughly $2,000 less. He also found that they are both "among the nation's foremost leaders in the number of bachelor's degrees awarded nationally."

Overall, he said in a statement, "they perform at high levels when compared to their national peers on many of the dimensions of importance to students, to the public, and to the state of Texas."

The chief areas in which McLendon found the Texas flagships lagging were four-year graduation rates, which hover around 50 percent at both universities, and African-American student enrollment.

In a statement, UT President Bill Powers praised the report generally and said the concerns were legitimate ones "that we share are working hard to address."

UT spokesman Gary Susswein noted that the university is in the middle of an initiative to raise its four-year graduation rate to 70 percent in the next four years. Such metrics will be important, he noted, as the Legislature considers tying a portion of state appropriations for higher education institutions to performance.

The report also drew praise from A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.

Reeve Hamilton has interned at The Nation and The Texas Observer, for which he covered the 2009 legislative session. Most recently, he was a desk assistant at The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. A Houston native, he has a bachelor's degree in English from Vanderbilt University.
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