Texas voters have the opportunity to take advantage of a “generational opportunity” to invest hundreds of millions of dollars a year in the state’s thriving universities without imposing new taxes.
Proposition 5, to rename the National Research University Fund (NRUF) and establish the Texas University Fund (TUF), will be on the Nov. 7 elections. Early voting begins Monday.
That “generational opportunity,” as TTU System Regent Cody Campbell called it in a column in the Avalanche-Journal, is a state constitutional amendment that would create a $3.9 billion permanent endowment to expand and support the research enterprises at four Texas universities: Texas Tech University, Texas State University, University of North Texas, and University of Houston. All are developing research universities that are taking steps to become one of the top universities in the country.
This does not include the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems, which benefit from the oft-discussed Permanent University Fund, or PUF – more on that later. Money from the new Texas University Fund will come from surpluses in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, as well as more than $1 billion from the state’s repurposed NRUF created more than a decade ago to support research in new the university.
According to information provided by Tech, the fund will expand research investments and attract top-tier professors to educate a wider range of students needed to meet the economic needs of our state. These institutions currently serve 160,000 students. Each university is also a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution.
As a constitutional amendment, the establishment of TUF must be approved by Texas voters.
The idea for TUF resulted from a debate in the state’s last legislative session this spring about more equitable funding for state universities. It’s an especially hot-button topic in light of the University of Texas at Austin’s announcement last year that it was leaving the Big 12 athletic conference for the Southeastern Conference — and all the implications that had on the economy, pride and politics. There have been calls – particularly from members of the South Plains delegation – to consider revisiting the PUF, the long-established and largely right-wing state funding mechanism. in the mineral state of West Texas. Those funds, by design, exclusively benefit the University of Texas and Texas A&M Systems.
Last week, TTU System Chancellor Tedd Mitchell and Tech President Lawrence Schovanec visited the Avalanche-Journal community editorial board about the potential benefits of additional research funding. Both admit that they don’t see the TUF fund as a consolation prize for the university systems that aren’t based in Austin and College Station.
In fact, Tech estimates it will receive about $44 million — up from nearly $240 million for all eligible universities — in Fiscal Year 2024 alone. And that number is expected to grow as TUF matures and sees more infusions from the state’s Rainy Day fund.
“It’s not really chicken feed,” Schovanec said.
Steady additional funding from TUF will provide meaningful investments in the Tech System and the state’s other growing university systems, as well as significant improvements to the state’s economy.
Already, the Tech System’s economic impact in the Lubbock region is upwards of $6 billion, and $16 billion statewide, according to university estimates.
The return on investment for research funding is high, according to Schovanec, who previously noted that for every federal research dollar invested, the local economy sees a return multiplied by 20.
But the impact can be seen in more than the numbers. Leaders pointed to the tangible benefits that technology-driven research has in the community, state and across the country. Last year, Governor Greg Abbott visited Lubbock to award a $50 million, federally-backed research grant to help launch the Center for Advancing Sustainable and Distributed Fertilizer Production. That National Science Foundation funding represents the largest and one of the most prestigious grants Tech has received to date, the university announced at the time. CASFER funding allows Texas Tech to collaborate with other prominent research universities such as Case Western Reserve University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech and Florida A&M University in a large research program aimed at benefiting the industry in agriculture.
Schovanec credits Tech’s research-driven mission — and additional funding over the years — for helping secure the federal grant, among others.
Money begets money. Attracting new, substantial research dollars and projects is increasingly dependent on showing Tech has the ability to sustain and sustain that research on its own, Mitchell said.
Technology went from $86 million in research costs in 2009 to $230 million last year, Schovanec said, reflecting the university’s emphasis on research.
Tech has already outlined their priority areas for additional funding if TUF is approved by voters. Such areas include:
- A Health
- National Security
The Prop. 5 is one of 14 proposed changes to the state constitution in Nov. 7 ballots. It raises no new taxes and benefits university systems in all parts of the state. While all are important, Prop. 5 is especially meaningful to the Tech System, the Lubbock community and some of the state’s most impactful universities and the communities they help support. This is an opportunity that investors at Texas Tech and other universities, along with all Texas voters, should champion and support.