After 140 days, the Texas Legislature closed its 79th session on May 30. Since the governor has until June 19 to sign or veto bills on his desk, it will take a few more weeks to thoroughly understand the impact of this session on UNT.
The state's $140 billion budget includes an additional $80 million for the cost-based formulas that support the operations of Texas' four-year general academic institutions. In addition, legislators restored 4.9 percent of the 5 percent they cut from non-formula items in previous sessions. Taken together, this means UNT will receive about $4 million in additional general revenue funds.
UNT administrators set full formula funding as the session's highest priority, according to President Norval Pohl.
"We are greatly encouraged by the Legislature's commitment to increase funding to higher education through the formulas," Pohl says. "The formulas, more than any other funding mechanism, follow the students and equitably provide funding to the institutions where the students are being taught."
"UNT is a good steward of the state's resources and as long as we have sufficient money, we will continue to educate as many people as we can," Pohl says. "If we don't have sufficient resources, we plan to educate the students we have very well."
While the $4 million in new funding will help cover the costs of educating 31,000 students, it does not cover them completely or provide funds for new initiatives or capital improvements.
During this session, UNT requested $94 million in tuition revenue bonds to build a new College of Business Administration Building and fund renovations to 11 existing buildings.
However, legislators did not pass the bill that would have granted tuition revenue bond approval for all of Texas' universities and colleges. Had it passed, the bill would have provided enough funding to launch construction of a new business building and some major renovations, due to the dedicated work and support of Rep. Myra Crownover and Sen. Florence Shapiro, Pohl says.
UNT's current Business Administration Building was constructed in 1960, and since then the number of faculty in the college has grown from 36 to 107, while the number of students has grown from 1,850 to 5,710. The TRB funds would have supported construction of a new 200,000-square-foot facility.
With a 687,707-square-foot space deficit, UNT has a 25 percent space shortage, according to the Texas Higher Education Committee. This is the second largest space deficit of any Texas university.
"Since the Legislature came very close to passing the bill, I am hopeful that any special session this year would include the need for providing higher education capital improvements," Pohl says.
In addition, Sen. Royce West's bill to establish a UNT law school in Dallas passed the Senate and the House Higher Education Committee, but ultimately died with more than 300 other bills that did not make it onto the House calendar in the final days.
"We simply ran out of time this session," says UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson. "It is significant that on our first attempt to establish a law school, the bill was successful in the Senate and had more than 25 co-sponsors in the House. Like any major new idea, proposals for new professional schools can take years, but we are committed to continue our work and we're encouraged by our progress. With the strong efforts of Sen. Royce West and UNT alumnus Rep. Tony Goolsby, we came very close to passing this measure in 2005."
UNT has explored the need for a public law school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1980, when it began developing a law library collection.
Dallas-Fort Worth, the ninth largest metropolitan region in the country, is the largest region without a public law school. Even though more than 1,700 new legal jobs are produced each year in North Texas, area employers must recruit many trained attorneys from other regions and states, according to Jackson.
This legislative session produced few major policy changes in higher education, but numerous refinements were made in financial aid and admission policies that will be analyzed and communicated to students and other interested parties in coming weeks, after the governor has signed or vetoed legislation, says Jackson.
Other featured articles in this issue