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Friday, September 29, 2023


Funding increase in effect Saturday

Fiscal Year 2008 begins Saturday, and with it the $436 million allocation to UH by the Texas Legislature for the next biennium goes into effect.

"We can continue to make progress achieving key strategic objectives such as research, academic enhancements and capital improvements," UH System Board of Regents Chairman Leroy Hermes said in a release.

This year’s allocation tops that of the previous biennium by $28 million, and higher education was a big priority for Texas, UH System Assistant Vice Chancellor for Governmental Relations Laura Calfee said.

"We are fortunate that the Legislature and state leadership understands the importance of an educated workforce and view their financial support of higher education as a good investment for the state," she said.

Most of the funds will go toward the University’s general budget, but UH received $18 million for special items, most of which will maintain previously established programs, funds and entities, such as the UH Center for Public Policy, the Learning and Computation Center, the Superconductivity Center and the Health Law and Policy Institute.

Other items received additional money to their budgets, such as the UH Small Business Development Center, which saw an increase of $460,000.

"The UH Small Business Development Center Network, working together with other Houston and lower Gulf Coast economic development organizations, will be focused on helping small and emerging businesses create new jobs for Texans," Mike Young, director of the UH SBDC Network, said. "Our intention is to extend our consulting and training to attract technology and technology-related businesses."

The UH SBDC, established in 1984, is part of a network of 14 consulting and training centers that promote entrepreneurship throughout Southeast Texas.

Young said with the help of the additional funding, the University will play a key role in developing hi-tech products and services in the state through the SBDC and UH faculty.

"Our goal is to improve survivability, growth potential and new employment opportunities for our client companies," he said.

The UH-led Texas National Large Wind Turbine Research Center proposal to build a wind turbine testing facility on the Gulf Coast, to which the U.S. Department of Energy pledged $2 million and the Lone Star Wind Alliance pledged about $18 million, received an additional $5 million from the Legislature.

According to a release, the Lone Star Wind Alliance is a collaboration between UH and several academic, government and corporate entities with the goal of developing a turbine-testing facility in Texas for use in the development of wind energy.

Calfee said the project’s potential economic impact and the federal dollars already awarded helped UH in attaining the additional money.

"It’s an exciting project," she said. "It was an opportunity that presented itself, and we were able to leverage federal and state dollars."

UH also received $2.55 million for Katrina recovery, which compensated the University for money spent on students displaced by the 2005 hurricane that was not repaid. The money was included in general revenue for the University’s $812 million budget approved by the board for FY 2008 on Aug. 16.

During the appropriation requests phase prior to the legislative session, the UH System faced an across-the-board 10 percent budget reduction to programs, but the funding was restored by the Legislature systemwide, Calfee said.

UH Interim President John Rudley said the additional funds awarded by the Legislature would enhance the University.

"We are grateful not only for the support of our legislators, especially the members of the Gulf Coast delegation, but also to the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhust and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick," he told Campus News.

The top priority for the System for the session was funding, Calfee said, especially in regard to research and tuition revenue bonds.

"Occasionally we will have special purpose legislations, but (in) this particular session the over-arching theme was funding in general and increase funding," she said.

Tuition revenue bonds go toward construction projects such as building renovations. Although each university pledges tuition to back the bonds, historically, bond payments are covered by the state, Calfee said.

UH’s bond debt service totaled $5.23 million, and like all approved tuition revenue bonds in Texas, was paid in full by the Legislature.

"Statewide it’s a very large amount of money – all the campuses are getting older," she said. "Not only are our campuses getting older, but of course there’s an increase in the number of students attending, too."

For UH, the tuition revenue bonds are for renovations to the University’s Science Building.

None of UH’s existing special items were cut, and as for additional projects that did not receive funding the system requested, Calfee said they will be re-evaluated and possibly brought up again at the next session in two years’ time.

"Those are decisions that come up through the departments, and they’re vetted internally to see what would have the highest likelihood (of passing)," she said.

According to UHS Governmental Relations, UH also saw a $7.49 million increase from the Research Development Fund, an additional $1.6 million from the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund, $11.76 million increase from the Higher Education Fund for improvements to University buildings, library resources and equipment and other increases.

UH did, however, take a $483,000 decrease in formula funding for core operations because of a drop in enrollment per semester credit hour relative to other universities, Calfee said.

Formula funding is distributed based on the cost of teaching a class, the number of times the class is taught at a university and how many students are enrolled in it through an equation determined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Overall, Campus News reported UH’s appropriations increased by about $28 million, or 6.9 percent, from the last biennium.

Legislators met many of the goals on the University’s agenda for the 2007 session, and one impact on their decision was the Cougar Advocates for Texas System Day, in which students and alumni visited Austin to lobby on UH’s behalf, Calfee said.

"Student interest is effective," she said. "The Legislature pays attention when students express their support for the University. They believe, like we do, that the students are really the number one client for the University."

But more than just voicing opinions for one day during a legislative session, Calfee said communicating with legislators throughout the biennium helps develop a good relationship with the body.

"As alumni and students (should) stay in touch with them before the Legislature actually goes into session so they are aware of the support that’s out there," she said.

CATs saw hundreds of students and alumni meeting with state officials to advocate for more formula funding, increased financial aid, greater research dollars and more allocations to the Higher Education Fund.

"We had a really great year," Tonja Jones, vice president for Alumni and Student Programs for the Houston Alumni Organization, said.

"(It was) probably one of the highest years in terms of student participation we’ve had for the last two sessions," Jones said, who has participated in some form in each of the five CATs.

"It’s not just alumni and administrators, it was about the students and it was for the students. I think that was just really nice to see that."

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