It's Our Time
The Texas Legislature has given Texas Tech and six other universities an unparalleled opportunity to become the state’s next national research universities. House Bill (HB) 51 sets out criteria that must be met to achieve national research, or Tier One, status and establishes two funding sources that will help Texas Tech and the other emerging research universities reach and maintain that status.
The university took a major step forward in early September when it announced $24.3 million had been raised that will qualify for about $21.5 million in matching funds from the state under the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP).
HB 51 established TRIP to be an immediate funding source for the emerging research universities. For gifts to qualify for matching funds, they must go toward endowed chairs, professorships, facilities, equipment, program costs, or graduate stipends or fellowships.
This level of support is remarkable and will allow us to make a quantum leap. The legislature created a pathway for us to follow. Now it’s up to the university and its supporters and partners to do the things that will sustain and grow our research over the long term.
While our $24.3 million easily topped the other six universities, the fundraising is not over. TRIP provides $25 million for 2010, and any gifts not matched in 2010 will roll over to 2011 for matching from another pool of $25 million. The final awarding of matching funds will come at the end of October by the Higher Education Coordinating Board.
A second, long-term funding source, the idea of Texas State Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock, would provide an endowment similar to the Permanent University Fund that the University of Texas and Texas A&M enjoy. The new fund is called the National Research University Fund (NRUF). NRUF will repurpose an existing but unused state fund into an endowment for new Tier One universities once they achieve certain benchmarks. It requires a constitutional amendment that voters must approve in a state-wide election in November.
If TRIP is the pathway to get to national research university status, NRUF is the mechanism for us to stay there. It is vital that the constitutional change, or Proposition 4, pass in November. Without NRUF approval, Texas Tech, or any university that meets all the state criteria, will not have a funding source to maintain its national research status.
The benchmarks that the universities must achieve to participate in NRUF are high, but with hard work Texas Tech has an excellent chance of reaching them. Our fate is in our hands.
High research productivity is the most important criterion for a Tier One school – and the area in which we have the most work to do. We also must meet four of six additional criteria. Texas Tech already meets one of these: we shelter a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and belong to the Association of Research Libraries. We are close on two others: size of endowment (more than $400 million) and number of Ph.D.s awarded (at least 200 per year). Other criteria include a high-quality faculty, high achievement of the freshman class, and high-quality graduate programs. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will define benchmarks in the future, but I believe we will either meet them or be very close.
While we have a way to go to meet the research criteria that the legislature has established, Texas Tech currently has some extraordinary opportunities to bring in new researchers who will help. At the same time we have a chance to conduct research that will point to solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing problems. For example, generous donors have created endowed chairs that will allow us to attract nationally prominent researchers in solar power, nuclear power, and other areas of sustainable energy.
In bringing new faculty and graduate students to Texas Tech, these opportunities represent a significant win for Lubbock as well as for the university. New faculty and students mean new dollars coming into the local economy.
An economic impact study done last year shows that our students currently spend about $297.5 million a year in Lubbock County and help sustain many jobs. In all, Texas Tech contributes about $1.63 billion to the Lubbock County economy annually. Achieving Tier One status will be a win not only for Texas Tech and Lubbock, but for all of West Texas.
To reach Tier One status, we must grow both our student population and the amount of externally funded research we obtain. We have plans in place to do both.
Most important, we must attract additional graduate students. These students are critical in helping us grow our research and instructional capacity. We have put in place funding for 80 new doctoral students to begin in September. We will double this number for fall 2010.
While we continue to work hard to recruit excellent students right out of high school, we also are expanding our recruitment of students who start their education at community colleges. We have agreements in place with community colleges across the state to make the transition to Texas Tech as easy as possible.
In addition, we are recruiting internationally competitive research teams who bring substantial research funding with them. Finally, we are making plans to expand our facilities to support the growth in research faculty and students.
Texas Tech is a great university with a long heritage of providing an education of the highest quality for students. We now have an opportunity to become one of the great research universities in the United States. It is up to us to seize the opportunity.
It’s our time.