Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Texas plans to overall Texas Southern
Texas Southern University is proposing top-to-bottom changes to ease the concerns of state lawmakers, including greater oversight from regents, tighter controls over spending and the involvement of outsiders in academic and financial matters.
The sweeping set of reforms comes after nearly two years of turmoil at Texas' largest historically black university and could lead to an infusion of money from the state.
While the additional funding is an immediate and critical need, campus leaders characterized the proposed strategy as the best chance for improving a school with myriad of problems, including declining enrollment and low graduation rates.
The long-range plan calls for new policies that would require the governing board to be more involved than before, especially in money matters. At the same time, it says the regents' first priority should be to hire a permanent president.
The 167-page blueprint draws from ideas proposed by Gov. Rick Perry's TSU advisory committee, which offered a stinging assessment of the university in March. In following the committee's report, the new plan suggests a renewed focus on undergraduate education while making no mention of earlier research ambitions.
If the plan is approved, the state would provide nearly $40 million in supplemental funding over the next two years.
Focus on management
The roadmap focuses mainly on the university's management, recommending a series of tighter controls, including several continuous, scheduled reports and audits to the board. Regents, for example, would receive an annual plan to maximize the amount of financial aid available to students before setting tuition rates.
The goal is to provide more information in the decision-making process to the board, which came under heavy criticism for lax oversight amid the spending scandal that led to the firing of President Priscilla Slade in 2006.
Glenn Lewis, board chairman since May, said the regents' workload would increase, but their "primary responsibility is having an administrative team in place that we can trust and rely upon." A new TSU president could be hired as soon as January.
The reorganization plan calls for a balanced budget and an end to the use of special funding for ongoing operation costs. It also identifies nearly $140 million in possible one-time expenses over the next eight years, including the demolition of shuttered buildings and repayment of financial aid to the U.S. Department of Education, among other unpaid bills.
Shooting for success
On the academic side, TSU would use improved tests to assess the college readiness of applicants and strengthen advising and counseling programs to design "a plan for success" for each student. The university would advise students seeking job skills rather than a bachelor's degree to enroll elsewhere.
TSU, however, would not introduce entrance requirements, and doing so would be a fundamental change from its long-standing commitment to accept anyone who wants to pursue higher education, Lewis said.
"We're not concerned with your previous record, as long as you're committed from this point on," he said. "If you're committed, we can work with you."
Still, the university may ease out of the costly remedial education business, possibly transferring responsibility for improving basic math and English skills of its students to Houston Community College, according to the reorganization plan.
TSU estimates that roughly 70 percent of first-time freshmen arrive on campus without the skills needed to do university-level work. More than half do not make it to their sophomore year.
The university's enrollment plunged to its lowest point in five years with 9,544 students this fall. Although campus leaders are hopeful the numbers will stabilize next year, there is concern over a new state law that requires some students who do not complete specified high school coursework to attend a community college.
To reverse the enrollment decline, TSU must increase the number of transfer students from community colleges, said Gayla Thomas, vice president for enrollment management.
"The community college pipeline will be the wave of our future," she said.
Posted by da rattler at 5:54 AM