Texas Tech University.

Volume 4, Number 1; March 2012

All Things Texas Tech

The Steps to Tier One: Texas Tech's Promise and Prospects

Written by Guy Bailey, Taylor Eighmy, and Bob Smith

“Who's number one? The quintessential American question. We all want to stand first in line, first in the hearts of our country, first in the polls, first in the standings. The pursuit of Number One is surely an important thing in sports, but for universities, being first is not as important as being among the best.” 

Center for Measuring University Performance,
Arizona State University, 2011


During the first half of 2012, the Texas Tech University (TTU) community should learn if the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has certified TTU as a National Research University (NRU). The enabling data was submitted in October 2011. The prospects of a successful audit of the data are excellent. In short, TTU's remarkable progress reflects the outstanding efforts of the faculty and staff. So, we begin this year with heartfelt thanks to the entire TTU community for their impressive accomplishments.

Assuming all goes well from here: What's next? Should the University pause or coast along? Or, should the achievement of NRU status be thought of as just one of a few steps to Tier 1 status. Herein we describe the NRU quest and its relevance to TTU efforts during 2009-2011. We also provide some thoughts on the pride that TTU should feel in earning NRU status. Finally, we propose a future course that TTU should consider if it is to join the ranks of America's Tier 1 institutions—those that belong to the Association of American Universities (AAU).


The Past Has Been Prologue

The University's strategic plan for 2010-2020 (Making it Possible . . . , 2010) contains a section on the "Once in a Lifetime Opportunity" presented by the passage of House Bill (HB) 51 by the 81st Legislature in 2009. Specifically, HB 51 enabled a group of seven Emerging Research Universities (ERUs) to be designated as NRUs if and when they meet objective criteria (for two consecutive years) as recommended by THECB and approved by the State Legislature. As importantly, ERUs that qualified for NRU status would be entitled to yearly payouts from a National Research University Fund (NRUF) valued at $500 million in 2009. The NRUF, established through House Joint Resolution (HJR) 14, was approved for use as authorized by a 56% majority of Texas voters in November of 2009.

Among the four most populous states (population estimates) in the U.S. in 2009, specifically California (37 million), Texas (25 million), New York (20 million), and Florida (19 million), there were eleven public and a total of eighteen public and private Tier 1 (AAU, see below) research universities. California has the most (8), followed by New York (6), and Florida (1). In Texas, at the time of the passage of HB 51, there were two public Tier 1 research universities: University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University and three overall including one private university: Rice University.

Thus, the crafting and passage of HB 51 was a master stroke of the Texas Legislature—especially given the now well known link between high quality and high enrollment research universities and advances in state-level cultural and economic development. HB 51 enabled the following seven ERUs to compete for NRU status: Texas Tech University, University of Houston, University of North Texas and the Universities of Texas at Arlington, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio. At the time of the writing of this paper, an eighth institution has been designated an ERU by the THECB: Texas State University San Marcos. We elaborate below on the criteria necessary for ERUs to qualify for NRU status, but it is important here to remind ourselves about the financial benefits of NRU status.

First and foremost, certified NRU institutions will qualify for funding from income of the NRU Fund, valued at about $620 million in March of 2012. The yearly payout arrangement as codified by HB 1000 of the 82nd Legislature in 2011 requires the following:

Given the current estimated value of the NRUF and the possibility that only two ERUs are likely to be certified as NRUs in 2012 (see below), the payout to TTU could be in the order of $8.5 to 9 million per year.

Another component of HB 51—the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP)—provided immediate funding for the ERUs. Specifically, $50 million was set aside by the 81st Legislature (reduced to $47.5 million by the 82nd Legislature) for cash matches to gifts designated for research (e.g., endowed chairs, equipment, graduate stipends or fellowships). The 82nd Legislature added $35 million to TRIP funding for a total of $82.5 million for 2009-2013. For qualified gifts given during the period September 1, 2009 through January 31, 2011, $65.3 million of TRIP funds were distributed to the ERUs. TTU qualified for $24.4 million (37.3%) thereby making it the preeminent awardee among the ERUs (see also Figure 1).

Beyond the NRUF- and TRIP-funding, institutions having total research expenditure (TRE) performance greater than $50 million per year are qualified to receive Competitive Knowledge Funds (CKF) of up to $1 million per $10 million in total research expenditures (including funds from all sources—federal, institutional, private and state resources but not including facilities and administrative [F&A] costs [also referred to as indirect costs]) as calculated on a three-year rolling average. Given TTU's current annual research expenditures (minus F&A) approaching $145 million per year, near future allocations upwards to $10 million per biennium ($5 million per year) could be added in state-provided funding. Thus, the movement of TTU to NRU status would coincide with a significant yearly infusion of state research funding to TTU and its future sister NRU institutions.

Both the NRU Fund and CKF have constitutionally-mandated or legislated purposes in their use that are focused on growing research capacity and ensuring research excellence in the NRUs: The NRU Fund distribution must "be used only for the support and maintenance of educational and general activities that promote increased research capacity." The CKF "was established to enhance the support of faculty for the purpose of instructional excellence and research."


Criteria for NRU Designation

The criteria for qualifying for NRU-status are highlighted in Table 1 along with indications of how well TTU fared during the 2009-2011 biennium. As noted in Table 1, TTU had to be designated legislatively as an ERU, which was accomplished with the passage of HB 51. But, the institution was also required to have $45 million per year in restricted research expenditures (RRE, which excludes all institutional and state funding). Table 1 contains the RRE figures for fiscal years FY 2010 and FY 2011, which exceeded the minimum by about $5 million in each FY and surpassed the prior RRE for TTU in FY09 by more than $15 million. A recent report published by the Office of the Vice President for Research describes the dramatic increase in external competitive funding and gifts supporting research at TTU during this period (see the Office of the Vice President for Research 2011 Annual Report). These data reflect significant efforts by the faculty of TTU as the University's "research metabolism" has increased in the last few years.

Besides the obligatory RRE goals, TTU had to qualify in four of six remaining criteria as noted in Table 1. The endowment requirement of $400 million was exceeded in FY10 and FY11by $34 and $75 million, respectively, thanks to the outstanding development work of Chancellor Kent Hance and our advancement colleagues both at the TTU System and TTU levels, especially including development officers in ten of the University's collegiate units.

The NRU criteria also called for membership in Phi Beta Kappa (the leading liberal arts and sciences honor society and arguably the most prestigious academic honor society in the United States), Phi Kappa Phi (touted as "the nation's oldest, largest, and most selective collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines" [Phi Kappa Phi, 2012]) or the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). It is noteworthy that TTU belongs to all three—the only ERU to be able to make that claim, and TTU is one of only three public universities (the other two including Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin) in Texas that have qualified for Phi Beta Kappa chapters.

The third of six criteria approved through HB 51 requires that NRU candidates graduate a minimum of 200 PhD degrees each year of a biennium. It should be noted that this criterion does not include other academic (e.g., EdD, Doctor of Music Arts) or professional (e.g., JD) doctoral degrees. Thanks to the efforts of our graduate faculty, who were especially diligent in their recruitment, retention and mentoring efforts during the past three years, along with the leadership and staff of the TTU Graduate School and the staff of the Vice President for Research, the University was able to exceed its goals by fifteen and thirty-two PhD degrees, respectively in FY10 and FY11.

As of this date, TTU has not met the HB 51 criterion for "high quality faculty." The original criterion of five National Academy Members (National Academy of Science [NAS], National Academy of Engineering (NAE], Institute of Medicine [IOM]) or seven faculty awards (e.g., Nobel Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, Pulitzer Prize) was later supplemented by a comprehensive review and notable findings in five doctoral programs, which was requested by TTU for the programs in Animal Science, Chemical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Spanish, and Technical Communication and Rhetoric. As indicated in Table 1, TTU did not meet either the National Academy or faculty award criteria, and the reviews mentioned have not taken place. Thus, this criterion will not likely be met by the time of the NRU audit scheduled in FY12.

As noted in Table 1, TTU appears to have fulfilled the "high quality of freshman class" and the "high quality of graduate programs" criteria in place on the last day of the evaluation period (August 31, 2011) thus it is likely that the University will meet the requirement of "four of the six criteria" listed as the A-through-F items in Table 1, thereby meeting all requirements necessary to qualify for NRU status.

As suggested earlier, TTU's NRU data (submitted to the THECB on October 19, 2011) will be certified by the THECB and audited by the Texas State Auditor. But, it is important to note that the THECB-submitted data has already been assessed through a set of objective internal audits conducted by the Office of the Vice President for Administration and Finance, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the TTU System Office of Audit Services, which reports directly to the TTUS Board of Regents (BOR) and functions autonomously within the TTU University System. Thus, we anticipate favorable state-level audit results—leading to a positive declaration of the University as an NRU, sometime before the close of FY12.


A New Point of Pride

Red Raiders are justly proud of many of aspects of TTU's history, legacy and demonstrated excellence in teaching, research and outreach. When the anticipated NRU designation is made, we should expect a proverbial "tipping of hats" from our higher education colleagues and sister institutions in Texas and the nation. Thus, while the idea for ERUs was proposed in 2004, as indicated in Figure 1, when the ERU status was codified through HB 51 in 2009, few people acknowledged that TTU would qualify for the coveted status in four, six or even ten years. To have made the grade in just two years has to be acknowledged as an outstanding achievement and our academic community should take a collective bow for their extraordinary efforts. The level of accomplishment that it reflects is truly noteworthy—justifying another "point of pride" for Red Raiders—far and wide.

While we may all feel a sense of accomplishment in meeting the NRU criteria especially considering that TTU and perhaps the University of Houston will be the exclusive entrants to the ranks of Texas's NRUs in 2012, it is important that our community remain forward thinking. Indeed, as indicated in Figure 1, we conceive of the NRU designation as a single step in the evolving stature of TTU as a "great public research university" as highlighted in the University's vision statement. Thus, we suggest that the TTU community consider how the newfound NRU status may be used as a platform for TTU ultimately emerging as one of America's Tier 1 universities.


Moving From NRU to Tier 1

Take a few moments to reflect on the "Stairway to Tier One" illustration in Figure 1. As suggested therein, while achieving NRU-status is a remarkable step in the evolution of TTU as a "great public research university," further achievements will be necessary for Texas Tech to claim Tier 1-status, which is the unquestioned claim of AAU institutions. As we reflect further on this idea, let's consider its implications in the context of the qualifications for and qualities of AAU members.

There are nearly 300 public and private research universities in North America as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education (2011) as RU/VH: Research Universities (very high research activity) (108 in 2012), RU/H: Research Universities (high research activity) (99 in 2012 and TTU's current classification subject to possible reclassification in 2016) and DRU: Doctoral/Research Universities (90 in 2012). According to data compiled by the National Science Foundation in 2009, another 404 universities and colleges conducted externally sponsored research making a total of 711 U.S. universities and colleges that actively pursue external research funding (InfoBrief, 2010). However, just fifty-nine of these institutions in the United States and two from Canada are members of the AAU (see Table 2). AAU institutions are considered among the very best in North America and represent many of the best universities in the world. Moreover, AAU institutions are believed to: 1) lead the U.S. higher education agenda; 2) have the best access to the federal government, businesses, foundations, and the media; 3) disproportionately receive federal R&D funding to U.S. higher education institutions (60% based on expenditures in FY2009 [Academic Research and Development Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2009, 2011]); 4) employ many of the country's best faculty; 5) recruit most of the best students; and 6) are increasingly being valued even in the world of collegiate athletics. Thus, to become a "great public research university," TTU should aspire to AAU status or at least be "AAU-like" in its academic characteristics and accomplishments. But, what will it take?

First, the steps to AAU-status may take ten-to-fifteen years and nothing is automatic. An institution is invited into the AAU and while quantitative criteria play a role in formulating the invitation, decisions are not made on the meeting of exact benchmarks and ranking criteria.

The most recent entrants to AAU (year), Georgia Institute of Technology (2010), Stony Brook University (2001) and Texas A&M University (2001) had long campaigns to become eligible. Their campaigns reflected strong commitments to "excellence in teaching, research and service" and "being the best." The most recent departures, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Syracuse University (both in 2011) were asked to leave or left because of insufficient National Institutes of Health (NIH) or National Science Foundation (NSF) funding (Nebraska, with its heavy ties to United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] funding, some of it earmarked, was deemed to be "less competitive") or low overall federal funding (Syracuse was consistently the lowest performing institution in ranking of this criterion). Some observers believe that the AAU will likely limit or reduce its membership further into the future. Although, institutions that are frequently discussed as potentially AAU-eligible include Boston University, Dartmouth College, Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, and the Universities of Cincinnati, Georgia, and Miami.

We have had associations with a number of institutions that aspired to AAU-status and the collective will to move in this direction had salient effects on each institution's individual development. It is not far fetched to imagine that such an aspiration for TTU would be beneficial to the University in its trajectory towards a "great public research university" and consistent with the University's ten-year strategic plan. Thus, it is useful to consider how TTU might meet the general guidelines for AAU membership.

The AAU Membership Committee and AAU staff have developed a two-phase ranking system and methodology that has not been described publically but is generally believed to involve the phased indicators listed below.

  1. Phase I indicators appear to include:
    1. Competitively funded federal research support using NSF Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) survey data, but excluding USDA funding.
    2. Faculty memberships in the NAS, NAE and IOM. (Note that the current total membership in the NAS is about 2,100; NAE is about 2,000; IOM is about 1,700. Typically, each body elects fifty to eighty new members a year)
    3. The National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) Faculty Quality Rankings. (Note that this information is drawn from the NRC national assessments of research doctoral programs, although AAU and other university officials are concerned about the veracity of the NRC data as published in the latest survey [A Data-Based Assessment, 2010])
    4. Faculty arts and humanities awards, fellowships and memberships
    5. Citations in the U.S. University Science Indicators (Note that this set of indicators relates to both research volume [numbers of articles] and quality [number of citations])
  2. Phase II indicators appear to include:
    1. USDA, state and industrial research funding
    2. Doctoral education, including number of PhD degrees graduated by discipline
    3. Number of post-doctoral appointees
    4. Quality and diversity of undergraduate education programs

Thinking about TTU's prospective chances for membership in AAU, we might ask: Where do we stand currently? To approach this question, we first analyzed Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) TRE data for the current member institutions, placing sets of universities in quintiles. Using TRE data for FY09, here is what we found for the AAU institutions in the United States:

In Table 3, we present a further breakout of characteristics of the above noted AAU institutions (for FY08 or 09 based on current availability) against parallel data for TTU (FY11). Despite the caveat that the comparison year data includes a potential bias for TTU, it is nevertheless interesting that TTU compares quite favorably in five characteristics (i.e., TRE, average endowment, average annual giving, average annual doctorates graduated and number of postdocs) to AAU member institutions in the fifth quintile. However, knowing that recent institutional departures came from this segment and that the most recent AAU entrants would have qualified with indicators in the "middle of the pack" suggests that TTU will have to grow and develop dramatically if it is to hope for the AAU designation. But, having some measure of hope and recognizing how far the institution has come just in the past three years suggests that the steps to Tier 1 are feasible. Furthermore, being on the right staircase and going in the right direction can certainly aid in our quest for excellence in teaching, research, and service. We offer this prospect and challenge for our community—in this decade.

As is true with all contributions to All Things Texas Tech, we welcome readers' thoughts, suggestions and concerns. Please direct these to Bob Smith.




About the Authors

Guy Bailey is president and professor of English at Texas Tech University.

Taylor Eighmy is senior vice president for research and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Texas Tech University.

Bob Smith is provost and senior vice president, and professor of chemistry at Texas Tech University.


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