Briefing Room Feb. 27, 2019

Posted February 27, 2019


Texas Capitol Building

You may have seen Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp’s opinion piece last week in the Houston Chronicle, in which A&M makes the case for greater investment in public higher education as lawmakers consider the state budget for the next biennium. We fully agree the state should increase its long -term investment in higher education and support all public universities.   

The article indicates that The University of Texas is being appropriated $850 more per student each year than Texas A&M.  

This number makes it seem as if there is a significant disparity in the amount of funding each institution receives from the state. However, when comparing apples to apples, UT Austin receives $171 per student each year less than Texas A&M.  

Here are the facts, in case you are asked questions about the funding gap between UT Austin and Texas A&M. The appropriations process is complex and fluid, so it’s vital that you have access to the numbers that lawmakers are discussing. 

The legislature uses formulas to fund core academic support for public higher education institutions. In the current biennium, we calculated a direct comparison of formula funding, which does not include non-formula items and health-related formulas.  

Most importantly, Sharp’s numbers include all non-formula dollars (such as for the McDonald Observatory, Bureau of Economic Geology, and Marine Science Institute) and pass-through trusteed funds appropriated to UT as service to the state. However, they do not include all research dollars similarly appropriated to A&M through the Agriculture Extensions, which are listed as separate agencies. A&M seems to report those items in research expenditures, but not in this per-student funding comparison.  

As the conversation here is related to per-student funding, it’s best to leave all research health-related and non-formula items out of the per-student calculations and consider only core academic funding. Otherwise, it’s just not a direct comparison. 

What about this next biennium? Based on the introduced budgets for the upcoming 2020-2021 biennium that were rolled out in the House and Senate recently, the gap in formula funding is expected to grow beyond the additional $171 per student that A&M now receives. The formulas reward institutions for growth in class size, and A&M has indeed grown. As Sharp states, it has increased enrollment 33 percent over the past decade, and this means A&M receives more from the formulas. UT has chosen not to increase enrollment, and instead focus on serving the current number of students most effectively and becoming more efficient in graduating students. In the proposed budgets, A&M would receive over $130 million more in formula funding than UT.   

Here’s that breakdown: 

Certified Headcount (2018)    

UT         51,536
TAMU 63,694

Formula General Review

  2018-19  Per Student Biennial    Per Student Annual   
UT         $387,214,097   $7,513  $3,756 
TAMU $500,303,771   $7,855  $3,927 

$171 more to TAMU per-student each year.  

Longhorns and Aggies fully agree that the state should continue to make a greater investment in all public higher education and are teaming up to make that case. Earlier this month, we worked side-by-side to advocate for an increase in per-student formula funding at Orange & Maroon Legislative Day. It is a shared priority for our two great institutions, and an important part of moving our state forward as a national and global leader.  

Correction to note:   An earlier version of this Briefing Room post incorrectly stated that the $55 million “hold-harmless” funding that UT received for the current biennium was included in our per-student calculations. The “hold-harmless” funds were not included in the per-student calculations because they were not part of the university’s formula funding. Instead, they were a separate line-item in the budget. If these funds are maintained in the upcoming budget, we hope some of them could be allocated for core academic functions to replace reduced formula funding dollars.  

We regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.  

The Exes and A&M’s Association of Former Students agree fully that higher education remains underfunded in Texas. We are committed to working together to educate lawmakers about the need for greater investment in all public higher education and, in particular, in the state’s flagship research universities. This requires adequate funding for both universities, including the continuation of UT’s hold-harmless funds. Texas is stronger when both universities receive the funding needed to provide a world-class education to their students.