LUBBOCK, Texas — As Red Raiders return to class this week, Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec is focused on maximizing the student experience while wading through the new challenges another year brings.
He prepared to welcome the largest first-year class ever, continuing a pattern of growth in the community that presents both advantages and challenges. As university leadership sets course for the 2022 legislative session, they are hopeful the large incoming class will spell good news for the state’s next round of higher education budgeting.
“This year is distinguished by the fact that it’s called an accounting year,” President Schovanec said. “We’re funded on a biennium, and one year is designated as an accounting year when [state legislators] look at our student credit hours. That determines our funding for the next two years. We’re very focused on making sure we’re maximizing the hours we teach.”
President Schovanec said maximizing hours for a growing student body while maintaining a personal learning environment can be a difficult balance to strike. The university is entering this school year with a budget of about $1.2 billion dollars – but that includes, in the president’s words, “no fat.”
“How we continue to fund and maintain our increased level of scholarship support and our investment in our people is always something that I think keeps the CFO up at night,” he said. “We’re very focused on making sure we’re going to be well positioned to benefit from our enrollment as our next funding cycle is worked out.”
Still, Red Raiders would notice some new investments into their experience as they walk into class Thursday.
Texas Tech is well underway in spending $72 million that the state awarded them for capital projects last year. That money has all been allocated to renovations to classrooms and labs, including a focus on facilities supporting hard sciences.
President Schovanec boasted the progress on the Academic Sciences Building. Still two years from completion, students in chemistry, biology, physics, geosciences and psychological sciences were set to enjoy a new $112 million, 130,000 square foot facility.
“That’s going to be a fabulous addition to this campus,” Schovanec said. “It’ll be state of the art for students. With this support from the state, it’s given us more flexibility to use our local dollars to address other needs.”
Some of those local dollars included the yearly $4-5 million that President Schovanec directed to classroom improvements In 2022, they are kicking off a second round of $20 million to update labs, refurbish the School of Music, and more.
The state capital project funding will be spent through 2027.
Texas Tech broke a new record for research expenditures. This week’s report shows they have dedicated $200 million toward those ventures, surpassing the last amount by $8 million. Tech also enjoys recognition of one of the four new Engineering Research Centers from the National Science Foundation, joining the ranks of Columbia, Duke, and Ohio State.
“We have a lot of momentum right now in terms of our research enterprise,” President Schovanec said. “We want to do research that has immediate benefit, first to our West Texas region that then has implications for global challenges and problems.”
President Schovanec is focused on reassuring the “better deal” he said students get at Tech. But as they approached 41,000 students, it became more difficult to grant each the same level of personal attention.
Last fiscal year, Tech invested $200 million into scholarships, an investment they credit in part with lowering the percent of students who graduate with debt from 61% to 56%.
“With so much competition for students now, being able to support those students is essential,” Schovanec said. “When we talk about the student experience, we’re talking about having a very personal and unique experience, graduating on time, and graduating with the least amount of debt.”
Graduate student enrollment is up five percent, but Schovanec says the pandemic has had a slight affect on student retention. The university records an 86 percent retention rate, down 1.5 percent from two years ago.
As Tech went back to normal after alleviating COVID-19 precautions, they said they have applied lessons from the pandemic towards mitigating a potential monkeypox outbreak. But the university’s current approach relies only on education and communications, such as literature in residence halls and bathrooms with best practices to avoid spreading the virus.
As some Texas universities amend their policies for how and when to recommend abortion and contraceptive services in their health clinics, Texas Tech is still unsure how to respond to new state abortion bans.
“There’s been discussion about that. We will always abide by the laws, but I believe when young students come and seek advice, I think we’re still sorting out exactly what we can and cannot recommend,” President Schovanec said. “Some of those questions have come forward in certain offices. We’re still sorting out exactly how we will respond. I think many institutions in states around the country are still finding their way in how to deal with that. This is a relatively new issue we are still finding our way with.”
President Schovanec reported that Texas Tech more than doubled their goal for charitable donations with a record of $230 million this year.
“We didn’t raise tuition, so our budget is basically flat,” he said. “We are so fortunate to have an alumni base that is so generous because that makes a world of difference in what we can do and the experience for our students.”
The long-term dream for Texas Tech is of course a revamp of the Permanent University Fund, the $24 billion endowment enshrined in the Texas Constitution that the state uses to fund The University of Texas and Texas A&M University. Other state universities have long advocated to amend that fund to include them, but prospects are dim. Any change to the fund would require a constitutional amendment, and Gov. Abbott has said the odds of that are practically “zero.”
Governor Abbott has instead floated a new $1 billion endowment for Texas Tech. President Schovanec is relying on local legislators to secure as much funding as possible.
“It will be very interesting to watch the work of Sen. Perry and Chairman Burrows as they lead that discussion on possible new funding,” Schovanec said. “Sen. Perry has laid out other plans that might benefit many universities with additional funding that I think addresses some of the scrutiny that is being applied to the PUF. We’ll follow their lead in how those conversations take place in Austin. It’s an issue of equity. How do you benefit as many students as possible?”
Texas Tech hopes the state’s projected budget surplus will translate into more funding next session. They are specifically focused on increasing the formula funding rate, which is the base amount Texas pays per-student to support salaries and academic programs.
“Texas has been good to higher ed and I think this session can be even better. There’s a considerable surplus, but there’s a long list of requests,” Schovanec said.
Last session, the legislature awarded Texas Tech $50 million of one-time “institutional effectiveness” funding, which Tech used to put $30 million into student success and academic programs and $20 million into research.
“It’s very important for us that we retain that funding,” Schovanec said.
Red Raiders return to school on Thursday, August 25.