Texas Voters Approve Measure to Strengthen Research Universities

November 03, 2009

Voters in Texas on Tuesday approved a ballot measure designed to strengthen the state's research universities, with about 56 percent voting in favor of the proposal.

In other states with ballot measures that might affect higher education, voters in Maine and Washington were considering Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposals that would cap increases in state spending and require that voters approve certain tax increases. Both efforts appeared headed to defeat on Tuesday night.

A similar measure in Colorado, adopted in 1992 and suspended in 2005, led to a decrease in state funds for higher education, and the governing boards of Maine's four-year public institutions and community colleges had warned of similar effects there. But the vote in Maine was going decisively against the measure, with 60 percent of voters opposing it. Proponents conceded defeat Tuesday night.

In Washington State, a similar measure was also trailing, with about 56 percent of the voters rejecting it, based on early returns, but the measure's supporters had not given up.

Help for Texas Universities

The Texas measure, known as Proposition 4, will establish a National Research University Fund to provide financial incentives for universities in the state to attain "top tier" status.

Three universities in Texas are now considered top tier: the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University at College Station, and Rice University. Seven institutions are specified to receive money from the National Research University Fund in return for meeting specific benchmarks. Among those, the University of Houston at University Park is presumed to be the closest to reaching top-tier status.

Capital for the fund will come from money already allocated for higher education, including a dormant fund estimated to be worth about $450-million. But because the universities will take some years to reach the benchmarks—which include having an endowment of at least $400-million and awarding at least 200 doctoral degrees a year—the fund is expected to be worth at least $2-billion before disbursements begin.

2 New Governors

Elsewhere, two states elected new governors.

In New Jersey, Christopher J. Christie, a Republican, defeated the incumbent governor, Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, and Christopher J. Daggett, an independent candidate.

In his campaign, Mr. Christie said he would focus more than his predecessor on higher-education issues, including naming a cabinet-level adviser on higher education and meeting regularly with college presidents. He also said he would seek to reduce the relatively high percentage of New Jersey residents who leave the state for college.

In Virginia, Robert S. McDonnell, a Republican, defeated R. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat, in the gubernatorial race. During the campaign, Mr. McDonnell promised to focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including creating loan-forgiveness programs for Virginia college graduates who teach in those disciplines. He also called on community colleges to play a larger role in job training.