As you know, every odd-numbered year the Texas Legislature convenes for 140 days. During this time, The Texas A&M University System identifies funding priorities and focuses on measures that support its member institutions, student success and retention, graduation rates and financial resources for faculty, institutions and student financial aid.
The Texas A&M System had its strongest showing in decades during the 83rd regular session. Our staff worked long days and long weeks, communicating the benefits, needs and importance of our member institutions to the Texas Legislature. As such, the regular session culminated in the A&M System securing six of its seven funding priorities.
We sought to enhance the operations of our campuses and the opportunities for students, faculty and staff across our universities and agencies by focusing on increasing formula funding, research funds, financial aid and agency appropriations. Additionally, we sought funding for student support initiatives, the Hazlewood program and the much-publicized tuition revenue bonds.
Member Achievements Awaiting Gov. Perry’s Approval
- Texas A&M University can now build new corps dorms. With the passage of HB 2892 by Rep. John Raney and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Glenn Hegar, the A&M System Board of Regents may now lease land on the main campus. This bill was critical for the school to renovate the dorms for the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets.
- HB 3296, also by Rep. Raney and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Charles Schwertner, passed. This bill provides additional funding from the Brazos County Hotel Occupancy Tax for the redevelopment of Kyle Field. We appreciate the partnership with the cities and county, and together we look forward to the renovated home of the 12th Man.
- Texas A&M University-Texarkana and Prairie View A&M University can boast about their future athletic programs, which will be enhanced by the passage of SB 691 by Sen. Kevin Eltife and SB 1145 by Sen. Hegar, both of which put into place the student-approved increases in athletic fees. This funding will increase the level of athletic excellence in our schools, raising student morale and application rates, among other benefits.
- For over four years, the A&M System has worked to gain access to the Research Development Fund for PVAMU, which supports increased research capacity at eligible institutions. This goal was reached this session with the passage of HB 870 by Rep. Cecil Bell and sponsored by Sen. Hegar. Beginning in 2016, PVAMU will have access to just over $1 million every biennium from this fund, an important compliment to the Chancellor’s Research Initiative funding for the recruitment and hiring of faculty. PVAMU also saw an increase of $2.5 million in the Academic Development Initiative (ADI). This funding allows for an increased number of faculty positions and course offerings.
- Texas A&M University at Galveston will receive $100,000 each fiscal year for diagnostic testing on oysters for diseases that are transmitted through the consumption of oysters.
- A&M System universities received new special item funding, including $200,000 for Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s Citrus Center and $1.5 million for their vet tech program, and $1.6 million for Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s engineering program.
- The Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory received $6 million for debt service to construct a new $50+ million facility to continue operating in support of the livestock, companion animal and public health industries, remain on the cutting edge of veterinary diagnostics and advance diagnostic research, and serve as the backbone of a state, national and global public health biosurveillance system. As such, the A&M System and TVMDL will continue attracting the most highly-sought after experts in agriculture, animal and public health science and bio-security.
- In total, our agencies received significant increases in funding — Texas A&M agriculture programs received over $52 million more than last biennium and our engineering programs over $15 million more. This funding provides $3 million to Texas A&M AgriLife Research for water resource management, in collaboration with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. Additionally, the Texas A&M Forest Service will receive $27.2 million for the wildfire protection plan (heavy equipment and firefighters). AgriLife Extension will receive $2 million for research and education activities related to reversing quail decline, TEES will receive $3 million for a pilot project on power lines and wildfire prevention, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute will be provided $6 million to act as legislative resource support on transportation issues, and $1.5 million will go to the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service for rural fire fighter training. TFS will be reimbursed $161 million for wildfire costs. This is all in addition to other appropriations.
In addition to individual campus and agency successes, the A&M System worked arduously on behalf of higher education across the entire state.
- Formula funding: The A&M System worked with the legislature to prioritize base funding for institutions. The Legislature added over $59 million to formula funding for our universities, as well as over $44 million in formula funding for the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Texas A&M University saw the biggest increase of all our universities—$26.4 million more than the previous biennium.
- Institutional enhancement: The Texas Legislature appropriated an additional $11 million for general institutional enhancements at our regional universities. For many of our institutions, this source of funding helps support faculty salaries and our student success programs through the new EmpowerU initiative.
- Financial aid: A&M System institutions already have some of the lowest tuition costs in the state, and our members work hard to keep college affordable. The Legislature provided $142 million more in financial aid for students at general academic institutions statewide. The Legislature also restored nearly $120 million in TEXAS Grants, further aiding Texas students.
- Hazlewood: The A&M System prides itself on being a military-friendly system. Our Veterans Support Office is nationally renowned and our TexVet office is leading the country in innovative veteran support. The Hazlewood program is critical in helping servicemen and women and their dependents access quality education. This session, we worked diligently to communicate with the Legislature about how to make this program more sustainable, ensuring that our military members can continue to access it. The result is $30 million in immediate state relief funds, of which our flagship in College Station is expected to bring in about $7 million. An endowment is also being created by the state and managed by the Comptroller, to help offset future costs of the Hazlewood Act. The program will also be transferred to the Texas Veterans Commission – an agency with which our Veterans Support Office has previously worked.
- Competitive Knowledge Fund: The Competitive Knowledge Fund is a critical research fund that supports faculty, instructional excellence and research at eligible institutions in Texas. This year, the Legislature added $50.7 million to the fund, of which, Texas A&M University will receive $18.9 million in new funding.
More to be Done
As you read this, we continue working to secure tuition revenue bonds for our campuses. This money is needed for our campuses to keep up with our growing universities or to make much-needed renovations and repairs. The following projects are at stake:
Texas A&M University:
New Biocontainment Research facility
New Music Facility
Tarleton State University:
New Gates Agriculture and Business Building
Midlothian Higher Education Center
Texas A&M International University:
Library renovation and additional instructional and support space
Addition to science center
Texas A&M University-Central Texas:
New health, science, and wellness building
Texas A&M University-Commerce:
New library and technology center
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi:
New life sciences research building
Texas A&M University-Kingsville:
Music building expansion and renovation to Jones Auditorium
Texas A&M University-San Antonio:
New science and technology building
New central and physical plant
Texas A&M University-Texarkana:
New academic and laboratory learning center
Texas A&M University-Galveston:
New academic building
Prairie View A&M University:
West Texas A&M University:
New Amarillo center
Texas A&M Health Science Center:
New education center and research building in Dallas
New facilities in Round Rock
New research building in Temple
Promoting University Excellence
On behalf of the A&M System, I extend my thanks to Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, Speaker Straus and members of the Legislature for their support of higher education and the Texas A&M University System. I believe that many steps were taken over the past 140 days to promote university excellence throughout our universities and other systems and institutions of higher education across the state.