Campus Carry, Capital Construction Clear Session
Overall, higher education fared well in the 84th session of the Texas Legislature.
July 2, 2015 | Written by Doug Hensley
The recently ended 84th Texas Legislative Session sent a clear signal about how important higher education is in the state, said Texas Tech University System Chancellor Robert L. Duncan.
"The Texas Legislature made higher education an important priority,” said Duncan, who spent more than 35 days in Austin on behalf of the TTU System during the session. “The message is higher education is critical to the Texas economy. While other states have already made cuts or are looking at making significant cuts, Texas sees the positive benefits that come from a long-term investment in higher education.”
During its 140-day session that concluded June 1, the Texas Legislature approved $3.1 billion in capital improvement projects at institutions across the state. The Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRBs) were issued for the first time since 2006 with roughly $247 million approved for TTU System projects.
“The TRBs were one of our legislative priorities this year,” Duncan said. “We have seen dramatic growth in enrollment at institutions across the state. Just in the last 15 years, enrollment has expanded by more than 600,000 students while growth across the Texas Tech University System has been 50 percent during the past 10 years. Expansion of facilities translates into an expansion of the educational mission.”
A closer look at the projects approved for the TTU System:
- Texas Tech University
- Experimental Sciences Building II; $70 million to construct a new building to house high-tech multidisciplinary research laboratories, principle research investigator offices, faculty and staff offices, and support space to foster Texas Tech University’s growing academic and research programs in the critical STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
- Angelo State University
- College of Health and Human Sciences; $21.3 million to construct a building that will allow growth in the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs in nursing, physical therapy, social work, applied psychology and counseling.
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso
- Medical Science Building II; $75.5 million for a project to provide new research facility in conjunction with the new four-year medical school, nursing school and the developing school of biomedical sciences.
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
- Lubbock campus: Education, Research & Tech Building; $60.2 million for additional research and academic space to respond to continued enrollment growth and needed technology updates. This facility also will allow Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to make needed improvements to the gross anatomy lab to address LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education) accreditation requirements.
- Odessa campus: Permian Basin Academic Facility; $14.3 million for a facility to accommodate expansion of medical students and other healthcare disciplines to the Permian Basin.
- Amarillo campus: Amarillo Clinic/Hospital Simulation Center; $5.7 million to construct a building to house an educational simulation center to facilitate training in both clinical and hospital patient care.
“The Texas Legislature worked extremely hard on behalf of higher education this year,” Duncan said. “I want to thank them for that, and I also want to thank our West Texas delegation for its great work on behalf of the Texas Tech University System.”
Besides appropriations decisions, two other topics also were discussed at length during the session. Even before legislators arrived in January, there was plenty of conversation about expanding gun rights. Two bills, known as “open carry” and “campus carry” eventually were sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, and he signed both into law June 13.
"Campus carry" legislation expands existing law, allowing concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons not only on campus, but also into buildings on campus. To obtain a Concealed Handgun License in Texas, one must be 21 years of age, pass a background check as well as a proficiency test. There are more than 850,000 CHL holders in Texas.
“I think it’s important to understand what the law is now,” Duncan said. “Previously, a license holder could carry a concealed weapon on campus grounds with few exceptions, but not in buildings. I think it’s fair to say that by and large, higher education isn’t in favor of campus carry, but if campus carry was going to pass, higher education needed to be involved in the conversation regarding what the bill would look like.”
The final version of the legislation allows public institutions to create gun-free zones based on the uniqueness of each campus. Institution presidents in consultation with faculty, staff and students, will make recommendations along these lines.
At the Texas Tech University System, Duncan and the system leadership team will be involved with the presidents and other constituencies to develop campus-by-campus exceptions that will be presented to the Board of Regents for its approval.
The “campus carry” legislation does not take effect until August 2016. In the meantime, Duncan said the Texas Tech University System will work on a set of principles and guidelines for the institutions to consider in defining “gun-free zones” as well as optional training for CHL holders who plan to carry on campus. Duncan said campus safety will continue to the top priority throughout the upcoming implementation of campus carry.
If there was a setback for higher education at this year’s session, it was in connection with the Hazlewood Legacy Program, which waives tuition for Texas veterans, their children and their spouses.
A measure introduced to make substantive changes to the program moved out of the Senate but could not get off the House floor. The statewide total of “forgone” tuition and revenue for 2014 was $170 million, which includes veterans, surviving dependents and spouses and legacy recipients. The cost for Texas Tech University was $10.4 million and was almost $2 million for Angelo State University.
“This is a concern for higher education,” Duncan said. “Hazlewood is a great program, and it is an important benefit for veterans and their families who have given so much. At the same time, we have to figure out how to pay for it. The costs are significant, they are growing every year, and the institutions have to absorb them. Ultimately, other students wind up paying.”
Overall, though, higher education fared well.
“Texas is serious about higher education,” Duncan said. “We believe it is an investment in making Texas nationally competitive. While others are making cuts, Texas is saying we want the best and the brightest faculty and students from all over the country to come to Texas.”
About the Texas Tech University System
The Texas Tech University System is one of the top public university systems in the nation, consisting of four component institutions —Texas Tech University, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Angelo State University and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso—and operating at 12 academic sites and centers. Headquartered in Lubbock, Texas, the Texas Tech University System has an annual operating budget of $1.7 billion and approximately 17,000 employees focused on advancing higher education, health care, research and outreach around the globe.
In 2014, the Texas Tech University System endowment exceeded $1 billion, total research expenditures were approximately $215 million and total enrollment approached 47,000 students. Whether it’s contributing billions of dollars annually in economic impact or being the only system in Texas to house an academic institution, law school and medical school at the same location, the Texas Tech University System continues to prove that anything is possible.