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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

February 10, 2015 at 11:23 AM

What Texas knows about funding universities

Reading my colleague Katherine Long’s story on how university funding was the key factor in Michael Young leaving the University of Washington to accept the presidency of Texas A&M University, it breaks down two ways: current funding and a vision for future funding.

Texas was only somewhat above the national average, adjusted for the cost of living in each state, in 2013. But so savage have years of cuts been to higher education, that the Lone Star State comes in at 19th nationally. California, where the University of California System faced cuts initially under Gov. Ronald Reagan (but later funding increases; Reagan was frequently pragmatic), has suffered for years from the effects of Prop 13. It ranks fourth from the bottom. California once had the finest public universities in the nation — and they were tuition free.

Washington, with all its prosperity, supposed progressive valuing of education, and lack of the Prop 13 self-destruct mechanism, ought to at least come in at the middle, right? No. That “honor” goes to South Dakota. Washington is second from the bottom (the state known for breakthroughs and brainpower, Florida).

The story said, “Young was careful not to criticize the Washington Legislature for being too tightfisted with its education dollars.”

Well, allow me. All of you legislators who have voted against funding for higher education are dumber than the butt of the most cutting Aggie joke. You make the term “pinhead” sound like an accolade. As Talleyrand would have said, it was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.

Texas doesn’t provide better than average funding for its universities because it wants a bunch of pinko intellectuals talking about income inequality. It does so because world-class universities are among the most important engines of the economy. This is a big requirement in a state as controlled by business interests, politicians steering federal dollars to the state and a century of business philanthropy as Texas.

This is what Texas knows.

Nor is it recently-gained knowledge. Around 1980, Texas business and government leaders vowed to make the University of Texas at Austin a world-class institution, and within a few years it was there. Texas A&M in College Station was not far behind.

Apparently Washington doesn’t — or enough legislators don’t  — know this.

(And the tax money created by economic activity that ultimately can be traced to higher education funds the public coffers of which the rural/exurban red-voting precincts and counties are net takers).

It is not good enough to say, “But Texas A&M and the University of Texas systems get a cushion from the Permanent University Endowment, which made it big with oil.” We’ve got all these self-proclaimed innovators. Well, do something.

Otherwise, Washington will continue to play Russian roulette with its economy, only with multiple chambers loaded.

As for Young, I hope it’s worth it when he realizes those drunken Aggie football alums he must hobnob with — and make a good (ole boy) impression on — are millionaire/billionaire donors.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Bertha has Plan B

Pioneer Square lacks options

Fall in with Plan A



Comments | More in Universities/Knowledge economy | Topics: Michael Young, Texas A&M University, University of Washington


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