UHCL Day at the Capitol: Finance VP details university's funding initiatives
Members of the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate were at the Texas State Capitol on March 7 to adopt a resolution declaring it University of Houston-Clear Lake Day. Over 40 administrators, faculty, staff, alumni and students journeyed to Austin last week to meet with state legislators throughout UH-Clear Lake’s Day at the Capitol to ensure the university’s financial initiatives remain at the top of their priorities during the new legislative session.
“Our goal in making this trip is two-fold,” said UHCL’s Vice President for Administration and Finance Mark Denney. “First, it’s our opportunity to express our appreciation to our legislators, but also to help directly connect them to what their support means to our students. It also gives us the chance to explain and expand on our funding requests.”
Denney said it was significant that for students to be present and tell their personal stories. “Legislators get to hear firsthand how higher education supported by taxpayers in Texas is transformational in students’ lives,” he said. “That’s why we take so many students—we want legislators to hear what our students have to say.”
The university has five specific funding requests for legislators’ consideration, including two special funding requests.
“Our first goal is to receive support for higher education through the funding formula,” Denney said. “The funding formula is the allocation method the state uses to fund individual universities. This determines how much each campus gets, based on data and information provided by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.”
The formula, he explained, is essentially the “pie” from which UHCL gets a certain slice. “Our message to legislators is, if they support our students, then we would like them to increase the size of the pie,” he said. “The current pie is smaller than it was in 2010-11. We’re now asking for them to restore it to at least the level that it was more than a decade ago. As the state’s funding of higher education has declined, students have had to make up the difference, which is the predominant reason for the rising cost of tuition.”
Next, Denney said UHCL was requesting financial aid for students through more funding to Texas Grants.
“This is a state-funded program and students can access the funds if they qualify, no matter where they choose to attend,” he said. “Many of our students receive this funding because UHCL has a higher population of low-income students than many other campuses. That’s why increasing this funding would impact many of our students who would otherwise not be at a university.”
Third on the priority list is expansion funding, which is a request simply to move the funds UHCL received to build infrastructure during the university’s downward expansion in 2014 to another account.
“While we were going through downward expansion, the state recognized our need to build additional infrastructure to support incoming students, but past legislative action has begun removing that support,” he said. “Our position is that we are recruiting new and first-time students to UHCL, but we have not yet gotten to the place where we can replace that funding.”
Denney explained that a fund called Institutional Enhancement would be a more appropriate place for the funds to be moved. “Funding that still supports our downward expansion, but moves it to Institutional Enhancement allows the university to retain that funding while we continue to grow that first-time-in-college population,” he explained.
Last on the list is comprehensive regional university funding, which is the state’s first venture into performance-based funding.
“This program was created at the last legislative session, but it was not permanently funded. We are now asking the legislature to permanently fund this,” Denney said. “Performance-based funding means funds would be available to be used to the university’s best advantage, but we have to deliver graduation results at a certain level to the state in order to continue receiving the funding. Our graduation numbers of low-income students would need to be higher.”
Denney said the key is, the university wants students to enroll and graduate. “These funds would help us create more resources for our students to support them as they move toward graduation.”
The university has two special funding requests. The first is to fund the Campus Construction Assistance Program (CCAP) for a STEM II building, and a renovation of the Delta building. The second is to increase funding for the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities to $1 million per year.
“What’s most important with the STEM II request is that over 50% of our incoming students are declared STEM majors, but over 50% of our labs for STEM courses are about 50 years old,” Denney said. “Students come to UHCL having seen more up-to-date labs in their high schools or community colleges than here. Our new STEM building has labs that are state-of-the-art, but that accounts for the other 50%. Our STEM programs, including computer science and engineering, are among our fastest-growing programs.”
Currently, CADD receives $400,000 in state funding per biennium. “It’s one of our most successful initiatives in terms of community impact, but CADD has a waiting list of about three years of families who need services,” he said. “The additional funds would help eliminate the waiting list.”
Denney believes Texas’s strong public university system is among its greatest assets and funding them should remain a top legislative priority.
“There’s been a shift in sentiment about the value of a higher education degree as a public benefit. It’s now seen as more a personal benefit,” Denney said. “The fact is, our Texas economy significantly benefits through a more educated workforce, but because of that shift in sentiment, there’s been less funding for higher education, causing tuition rates to increase substantially, making an education unobtainable for many students.”
Although those individuals do benefit from attaining an education, Denney said all Texans are better off with a strong economy. “An educated workforce drives a strong economy, and we greatly appreciate this opportunity to support our students as they help bring that message to our legislators.”
For more information about UHCL's financial aid programs, go online.