UH System Chancellor Discusses State Budget Woes Before Senate Finance Committee

University of Houston Chancellor Renu Khator told state senators that as the UH System works with the Legislature to solve the budget crisis, its priority will be to minimize the impact on its students.

Khator testified Monday before the Senate Finance Committee, telling members that while the UH System is committed to helping the state solve the budget crisis, the proposed cuts to higher education in Senate Bill 1 (SB1) pose a serious challenge to the UH system’s academic and research goals.

“State resources have been critical to our success, and their potential loss threatens to slow the progress our universities have made in serving the needs of the region and state,” Khator said.  The bill’s proposed cuts for the UH System amount to $81 million.

The finance committee has been hearing testimony from higher education leaders from across Texas. Khator testified Monday, along with UH-Downtown President William Flores, UH-Clear Lake President Bill Staples and Interim UH-Victoria President Don Smith.

Since the Legislature last met two years ago, Khator said the UH System has made significant gains _ overall enrollment has exceeded 63,000 students, research has surpassed $124 million for the first time, UH has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as a Tier One research university, UH-Victoria welcomed its first freshman class and new campuses were opened in Pearland and Northwest Houston.

Khator said the UH System wants to build on those gains despite the looming budget problems. 

“We will do our level-best to minimize the impact on the students, because that’s what a university is all about,” Khator said.

The system has identified four priorities for state appropriations, including the preservation of its base formula funding, incentive funding and financial aid, she said.

Additionally, Khator asked for “greater proportionality” among state agencies in sharing the proposed budget cuts. The reductions to higher education in SB1 amount to 11.9 percent overall, while state agencies as a whole would be reduced by 10.1 percent.

Khator said the UH System also is asking for more management flexibility, including a reduction in state reporting requirements and the ability to reconfigure special items into broad research categories. Finally, she asked senators to maintain funding for Tier One universities.

“As you know, my top priority for the University of Houston is that it continues to emerge as a research university of national prominence,” Khator said. “Much has been achieved on this front.”

Khator noted that student success is key to building a nationally competitive university. Last fall, UH posted a record enrollment of 38,752 students, awarded a record 7,230 degrees and had a record six-year graduation rate of 45.7 percent.

“It is enough? Certainly not,’’ Khator said, adding that the UH System will continue to work on ways to improve student achievement despite the budget challenges.

When asked about the potential for tuition increases, Khator said she doesn’t want to raise tuition rates. She said, however, that it is one of a number of strategies that must be considered if the proposed cuts are adopted. UH officials are working on numerous other cost-saving proposals, including consolidation of some services and spending cuts. UH System regents will decide on tuition rates in April or May.

Also on Monday, UH System Regent Nandita V. Berry appeared before the Senate Committee on Nominations as part of her official confirmation process. 

“I’m glad that Gov. (Rick) Perry appointed her,” said Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, who introduced her to the committee. “She is doing a great job on the board of regents.”

 “It’s an exciting time to be on the board,” Berry said. She also praised the “excellent leadership” of Khator and UH System Board of Regents Chair Carroll Ray and noted UH’s recent accomplishment of being designated a Tier One research university by Carnegie.

Berry, who was born in India, came to UH in 1989. She earned her bachelor’s and law degrees from UH and now practices law at Locke Lord Bissell and Liddell.  She met her husband, Michael Berry, at UH and they were married on campus.

Sen. Glenn Hegar, chairman of the nominations committee, said the UH system is an important center of education in Texas. He also commended Khator’s leadership.

”I think she’s done a fantastic job moving the UH system forward,” Hegar said.