Texas Tech President Schovanec talks plans for aid money, future of PUF

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LUBBOCK, Texas — With hundreds of millions of dollars coming to the Texas Tech University System through federal and state funds, President Lawrence Schovanec sat down with KAMC News to discuss the university’s plans for spending the money and preparing for future legislative sessions.

President Schovanec expressed his satisfaction with this year’s legislative accomplishments in Austin, which expanded to three special sessions and ended with a $3.34 billion bill to finance higher education capital projects.

SB 52 funds $80 million in campus improvements and renovations, with $72 million going directly to the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock and $8 million heading to the Junction campus.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Tech,” President Schovanec said. “We do a lot of investment of our own resources into capital projects, but we can never make massive changes like this without support from the state… we really need to take advantage of this [and] show good faith in terms of using the resources the state, the taxpayers, have provided us. There’s a lot of effort and planning going into that right now.”

President Schovanec named a list of at least six buildings considered for modernization and ADA compliance renovations. They include the chemistry and biology buildings, three buildings in the engineering school, and the student residence Holden Hall, part of a running list which the university has been asking the legislature to support since 2015. He said the money will be spread throughout campus, but is reserved for updating existing facilities rather than building new ones.

Texas Tech is also benefiting from more than $70 million in federal coronavirus relief funds, including $35 million for student aid and $35 million for institutional support. That money will help to make up the financial hit from excess expenses and reimbursed student fees caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. President Schovanec said those lost expenses total more than $100 million.

“It’s not going to come up to $100 million dollars, but we are grateful for what we did get,” he said. “All of those funds are either given directly to the students or to the enhancement of the teaching and learning environment they will experience here on campus.

The student aid has already been partially delivered in the form of direct checks to students who have a demonstrated need, and other funds will be used for academic improvements such as increasing classrooms’ ability to provide online learning.

While that $80 million may not be available until next spring, another $50 million is available “almost immediately” for educational investments.

“We had been… making the case for some time that to elevate student success, retention, address issues of cost, enhance our research stature, we need additional funds,” President Schovanec said. “We want to make sure all the resources are there to make sure students have every chance to succeed and stay enrolled at Texas Tech.”

These federal and state investments, in addition to the $25 million Tech received from the federal government last year for student coronavirus relief, total more than $225 million that Tech has received since 2020.

“Nationally, you see a continuing decrease in investments in universities and colleges, but we’ve been treated well in Texas — much, much better than many other states,” Schovanec said.

The university will now pivot to planning for the next session, set to begin in January 2023. President Schovanec anticipates a “more difficult” session that will focus, in part, on amending the Permanent University Fund.

Texas’ Permanent University Fund is a source of revenue for higher education enshrined in the Texas Constitution. Since 1876, it has used revenue from 2.1 million acres of oil fields in West Texas to benefit only The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University to the tune of almost $22 billion. Lubbock legislators Rep. Dustin Burrow and Sen. Charles Perry introduced legislation in the 87th session to offer these funds to more universities, but it failed to gain traction. President Schovanec hopes the legislature will take a closer look next time around.

“The PUF was established many, many years ago… there were two primary institutions. And there are many outstanding institutions who could provide greater opportunity for students, enhance their research stature, their academic stature, if they had access to amount of funding that has gone to those two schools,” he said.

As the university prepares for those debates, President Schovanec said the money it has already received reflects a reason to be hopeful for the future of Tech that is often understated.

“The funding we’ve received in this third special session is just one more example of so many great things that are happening at Tech,” he said. “And sometimes all of those positive aspects get lost within the conversation of, say, football.”

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