UT System needs $7 billion for bricks, mortar, report says

Regents also adopt first comprehensive accountability report

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, March 12, 2004

The University of Texas System issued two reports Thursday that can be boiled down to a question and a statement:

How good a job is the system doing?

And the system needs several billion dollars to accommodate more students.

The question is examined in the system's first comprehensive accountability report, an analysis of such things as graduation rates and research spending. It measures the performance of the nine academic campuses, the six medical campuses and the system's administration.

The statement emerges from a task force report on the estimated cost of renovating and constructing buildings to meet the state's enrollment growth goals for higher education by 2030. The figures are daunting: $20 billion for all public colleges and universities in Texas, including $7 billion for the UT System.

Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order in January that requires all of the state's public university systems to issue accountability reports. He issued a statement Thursday praising UT System officials for moving forward with one. The UT System's is the first. System officials began the initiative 15 months ago at the behest of Chancellor Mark Yudof, who launched a similar effort in his previous job as head of the University of Minnesota.

"This is not to say there was zero accountability yesterday and it's a whole new day today," Yudof said. "But the data have not been presented in a usable format."

In the report, scores of variables are used to measure the campuses one by one and overall. For example, research spending, a common measure of academic excellence, rose 57 percent systemwide from 1999 to 2003, to $1.5 billion. Health campuses account for two-thirds of research spending.

Yudof said he was stunned by how robust the research program is, especially in the medical arena. On the other hand, graduation rates were even lower than he had expected.

Nationally, about half of students graduate six years after entering a college. UT-Dallas does slightly better, and UT-Austin graduates 72 percent. But other campuses fall short, with UT-San Antonio posting a rate of about 25 percent.

The report on construction costs is based on the state's "Closing the Gaps" initiative, which calls for raising enrollment and graduation rates for all Texans and bringing the rates for blacks and Hispanics up to the rates for Anglos.

The statewide estimated cost of $20 billion includes not only $7 billion for the UT System but also $3 billion for the Texas A&M University System and $10 billion for other public colleges and universities.

The $7 billion covers all UT System academic campuses except Austin, which was excluded because its enrollment is not expected to increase. The report notes, however, that the flagship campus needs $2 billion in renovation and construction.

Officials hope to trim as much as $2.4 billion from the $7 billion by more efficient use of space. Existing sources of money -- such as the Permanent University Fund, tuition revenue bonds, the Higher Education Assistance Fund and philanthropy -- could cover about $2.8 billion in construction. That would leave at least $1.8 billion to be financed some other way.

Regents Chairman Charles Miller said one possibility is a statewide bond issue for higher education.

rhaurwitz@statesman.com; 445-3604