UTSA and the 87th Texas Legislature
Now that the 87th Texas Legislative session has come to a close, I’m writing to provide an update on some of the major outcomes from the session for UTSA, particularly around the state budget passed via Senate Bill 1 (SB1) and recently signed by Governor Abbott.
By way of context, the Legislature convened this past January with some significant concerns about the state of the Texas economy and resource availability. As Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar provided updates on the status of the Texas economy, these concerns lessened somewhat.
I am grateful for the work of our governmental relations teams here at UTSA and at UT System. Jason Hassay, Albert Carrisalez, Rod McSherry and Carlos Martinez worked closely with me and their UT System counterparts to advocate for UTSA and for higher education. As our new Associate Vice President for Government Relations based in Austin, Jason facilitated engagement with our elected officials and their teams—as well as state agency staff—on almost a daily basis. Further, Senior Vice President for Business Affairs Veronica Salazar Mendez and her colleagues Tammy Anthony and Paula Pierson worked with many to respond to over 170 inquiries from UT System regarding proposed legislation over the course of the session.
Texas’s six public higher education systems and 37 general academic institutions collaborated closely to advocate for increases to state appropriations formula funding and several of the other items mentioned below. Thanks to that teamwork and the diligence of many of our elected leaders, this session brought some positive outcomes for UTSA that will bolster our trajectory toward our destinations as a model for student success and a great public research university.
Based on this year’s formula funding process and the additional funding allocated by the SB1 conferees, UTSA will receive a formula general revenue appropriation of $228.2 million over the biennium—an increase of $32.3 million (16.5%) over the last biennium. This represents one of the higher increases across all 37 general academic institutions.
Efforts to grow weighted semester credit hours during the counting year were instrumental in this dramatic increase. I really want to emphasize that our collective efforts to carefully manage planned enrollment growth and weighted semester credit hour production resulted in these positive funding outcomes for UTSA. My thanks go to the many who contributed their energies to this important work, including Provost and Senior Vice President Kimberly Andrews Espy, as well as our deans, vice provosts, department chairs, faculty and staff in Academic Affairs.
We are grateful to Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Phelan, Chairman Nelson and Chairman Bonnen for supporting a nearly full restoration of the formula funding rates during conference. Our thanks go also to Governor Abbott for his ongoing support for higher education and to the other SB1 conferees and members who kept funding enrollment growth at the forefront of their discussions.
Senior Vice President Mendez, Provost and Senior Vice President Espy and I will send a follow-up message in the next month or so about the implications of this net funding increase and other components of our FY21-22 budget preparations.
Most Texas institutions joined us in advocating for full or partial restoration of the 5% budget cuts that were put in place in June 2020 by Governor Abbott. Those cuts were the starting point for UTSA’s base budget in this biennium. Efforts by the higher education community to restore these cuts were unsuccessful.
The Texas Grants program has a clear impact on the retention and graduation rates of our Roadrunners. SB1 included an increase of $110 million over the biennium in statewide funds for these grants. This will give more of our students—some 68% of whom rely on financial aid—access to this financial support.
Core Research Support Fund
SB1 included the continuation for Core Research Support funds, which reinforce research activities at Texas’s eight emerging research universities. This critical funding was renewed by the legislature, meaning UTSA will receive $12.6 million over the biennium to support faculty development, research equipment acquisition, laboratory upgrades, student fellowships and proposal development.
Texas Research Incentive Program
SB1 saw a reduction in support for the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP), which incentivizes private philanthropic support of research through matching funds for private gifts. The eight emerging research universities all advocated for TRIP, emphasizing the need to address the backlog of obligations. The legislature approved a biennial investment into the TRIP pool of just over $16.6 million, with UTSA’s expected share to be $1.4 million. We look forward to taking advantage of this funding as we continue to secure gifts generated through our upcoming capital campaign.
Tuition Revenue Bonds
The House passed HB1530 for tuition revenue bonds (TRBs); however, the bill was not taken up by the Senate. HB1530 included a building project for every university in Texas. Like last session, UTSA put forth the expansion of our Alvarez College of Business in downtown San Antonio as our TRB request. The project was well received by the House, and given the overwhelming community support, we will continue to advocate for TRBs if they are considered in upcoming special sessions and explore other avenues to secure funding for our plans to expand business education and career engagement at our Downtown Campus.
SB1 saw a reduction in support for the Hazlewood program, which reimburses institutions for the reduced cost of attendance of military-affiliated students and their dependents. The legislature appropriated about $46.9 million over the biennium to reimburse all general academic institutions exempting more than $175 million in tuition.
National Research University Fund
UTSA is working hard to be eligible for the National Research University Fund (NRUF) in fiscal year 2022. We are in the midst of completing our qualification for NRUF, which involves a review of five of our graduate programs by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. We expect to learn our status by late spring 2022. If eligible, funds would be allocated in FY22.
Governor’s University Research Initiative
Currently, Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI) funds are limited to faculty receiving the most prestigious academic awards. The Legislature not only appropriated $40 million to GURI, but also enabled the Governor’s office to expand the list of awards for faculty eligibility. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will provide input on these expanded criteria. We anticipate using GURI funding opportunities in our faculty recruitment strategies.
Foster Care Pilot Program and Special Items
The foster care pilot program—a unique partnership between UTSA, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Alamo Colleges District and Bexar County—retained full funding for the biennium. We appreciate Senators Menéndez and Campbell and Representative Minjarez for their efforts to strengthen this program and position Texas to be a national leader in serving students with a history of foster care.
Cybersecurity in Advanced Manufacturing
UTSA was successful in securing $5 million to help ensure the cybersecurity of small and medium advanced manufacturing enterprises in Texas. This effort complements our Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, recently funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Institute of Texan Cultures
Thanks to the efforts of Senator Menéndez and Representative Minjarez, special item funding for the Institute of Texan Cultures was restored to levels prior to the budget cut imposed on last fiscal year’s budget.
All other special items maintained their funding at last fiscal year’s level following the budget cuts.
I’d like to reiterate that the entire San Antonio legislative delegation (listed alphabetically)—Senators Campbell, Gutierrez, Menéndez, and Zaffirini and Representatives Allison, Bernal, Campos, Cortez, Gervin-Hawkins, Larson, Lopez, Martinez Fischer, Minjarez, and Pacheco—did a wonderful job advocating for UTSA’s priorities, especially given the unique challenges they faced this year in formulating the budget. I am deeply appreciative to them for supporting so many programs that are vital to our success.
I am equally appreciative of all of you. Your hard work this year on behalf of our students, community and research enterprise did not go unnoticed by our elected leaders. Thank you for the many ways you have helped UTSA thrive through uncertain times and continue to create bold futures.