One really bad idea for Texas higher education

Tonight’s “daily buzz” in the Quorum Report includes the news that Representative Fred Brown (R-College Station) has pre-filed legislation (HB 104) to consolidate the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency. This would bring higher education under the control of the elected State Board of Education.

The first problem with this is that the current organizational chart of TEA is already complicated enough. You might remember that in between the various stories about the politicization of public school curriculum, the SBOE has also had a scandal associated with the handling of investments. The SBOE is already handling too broad of a range of issues. Tasking them with higher education issues is not going to help this part-time board do their job in an effective manner.

Second, not everyone considers Texas public schools wildly successful. (I think the criticisms are greatly overstated.) The state’s record at creating, imposing, and  then discarding standardized testing schemes for the state’s children doesn’t inspire confidence. The best parts of Texas’ public schools are the teachers and most parents consider the test (and the manipulation of their scores by TEA) to be more trouble than they’re worth. People come from all over the world to attend college in America. Giving politicians more control over our universities isn’t going to make them more appealing to anyone.

Third, the whole effort is seriously misguided. Brown claims, “There would be one agency and one commission of education to deal with K-16 issues.” Such a reorganization would help pushing public schools and higher education into a “K-16” mode. Texas public schools already have a problem with “social promotion” and the state’s universities are already feeling pressure to accept and graduate any student who shows up. College needs to be more than 13th – 16th grades.  Also, combining two agencies doesn’t make their work go away and Brown’s proposal would likely just end up putting the same number of workers under the same heading. In the process, it will probably lower standards in higher education. Texas universities shouldn’t be an extension of Texas public schools. Our universities should attract students from across the country and then prepare them for success anywhere in the country and the world.

Legislators interested in saving money should consider asking universities to do less paperwork in the name of “accountability.” Universities have been forced to hire more administrators and reassign teaching faculty in order to deal with the rising tangle of red tape coming out of Austin. The state’s experiment with “accountability” produced no real progress and has only repeated and distorted the professional and other accreditation processes already in place. Texas universities should go back to working with the private businesses that hire our graduates and quit being asked to focus on the demands of Austin bureaucrats.

I’m sure that Representative Brown set out to save a few dollars. However, I think he’ll find that the cost of those saving those few dollars will be too high to justify the devaluation of Texas diplomas. Reform is needed in higher education. Shuffling the office space of the bureaucracy is not the answer.

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