The University of Texas At… Houston??

With a record-setting year, record-breaking Football team and lots of world-wide attention, the University of Houston has seemed to be unstoppable as of late.  But some interesting moves by another state power-player have leaders at the ‘Powerhouse’ seeing red away from school.

Here’s the scoop from Benjamin Wermund of the Houston Chronicle. The Houston area could be in for a big educational shake-up…

After hearing that the University of Texas’ purchase of more than 300 acres in Houston is a potentially illegal “land grab” and an “invasion” of University of Houston territory, UH regents unanimously approved a statement Thursday protesting UT’s planned Houston expansion.

UT Chancellor William McRaven said earlier Thursday that he has no intention of competing with UH. But the regents, meeting in the afternoon, were skeptical.

[…]

Law professor Michael Olivas argued that UT was “thumbing its nose” at the state’s higher education coordinating board and current Houston schools by not consulting them before buying 332 acres south of the Texas Medical Center.

The statement approved by the regents argues, in part, that UT already has a significant competitive edge over UH because it has access to the Permanent University Fund, a state-owned investment fund that funnels hundreds of millions to the UT System.

“If the State of Texas is to allow duplication of services and competition as a practice for higher education in the future, then we respectfully ask the legislature to provide parity in resources, including PUF, for the University of Houston System before allowing the University of Texas System’s expansion into Houston,” the statement said.

The UT System has established universities in every major city in Texas, except for Houston, where the UH System has the vast majority of its institutions.

But the one area UH has yet to officially enter is the establishment of a medical school.  UT’s only educational footprint in the Houston region is in the medical arena, with UT Health Science Center at Houston, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and UTMB in Galveston.

In some ways, this is kind of a milestone for the University of Houston.  After years of playing a very safe 3rd chair on the state higher education stage, the institution is finally getting a taste of the “other side” of Tier 1 status… Turf War.  Welcome to the big leagues, UH.

That’s the posturing, but here’s the truth. For a Metropolitian area of 6 million people, there’s no question that Houston can not only support another major university, but is in growing need of one, if not two. The Bayou City falls below other major metropolitan areas when it comes to educational options.

Recent years have seen an especially perplexing situation for UH, where the school has raised admissions standards, yet somehow continues to experience record enrollment growth. It’s a cycle that is not likely to continue with the evolution of a more selective student population.

But even as institutions like Texas Southern University and UH System schools work hard to create educational pathways for area students, their capacity cannot keep up with growth being seen in Houston-area high schools.  In the 2013-2014 Academic Year alone, over 63,000 students graduated from high schools in the Greater Houston region… a number equal to the size of the entire UH System.

So does the Bayou City have room for a ‘UT-Houston’ without causing some unforeseen damage to UH?  Probably so.  But the UH Regents are also right to point out that their system operates without PUF access.  If UH were being funded at the same levels as UT, would another university already exist in ‘Cougar Country’?? It’s yet another question worth asking.

Stay tuned for more as the saga continues.

UT Houston

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