Texas voters want more bang for the buck in higher education



New public opinion poll provides valuable guidance to lawmakers on budget solutions

AUSTIN – A public opinion survey commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and released today found that Texas voters think our state’s public colleges and universities can reduce their operating costs while improving on how they teach students.

Eighty percent of Texas voters think Texas colleges and universities can be run more efficiently, with 50 percent strongly believing so. Only 5 percent of voters think it is not possible.

Seventy-one percent of voters—44 percent strongly—believe that Texas colleges and universities can improve teaching while reducing operating costs, while a mere 13 percent disagreed.
“Texas voters want more value and higher quality teaching for the tax dollars they pay to support higher education,” said Justin Keener, TPPF vice president of policy and communications. “The results give lawmakers and university officials clear marching orders for how Texans want them to address budget shortfalls and rising tuition costs: put our students first and cut higher education overhead.”

Voters emphatically want professors to spend more time educating students in the classroom, even at the expense of research. The survey found 87 percent of Texans believe that the most important purpose of a university is to educate students, while only 6 percent say it is to conduct research. By a margin of 81 percent to 14 percent, respondents believe that tuition dollars should be used to teach students and not be used to subsidize research.

The survey results echo what state policymakers are saying and hearing from their constituents. House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch said at a Texas Tribune TribLive event last Thursday that Texas needs professors of public colleges and universities to carry a heavier teaching load.  The TPPF survey found 87 percent of voters believe college professors should be required to teach in the classroom at least six hours per week (9 percent disagree).

Voters also want to see more rewards and accountability for professors who are in the classroom teaching. By a margin of 73 percent to 23 percent, they agreed with the proposition that professors should be paid based on how much work they do, especially how many students they teach.

When asked how universities should deal with budget shortfall, the top three choices of voters were:

Option First Choice Second Choice Total
1) Reduce administrative overhead 33 percent 20 percent 53 percent
2) Delay new facilities 18 percent 20 percent 37 percent
3) Require professors to teach more students and do less research 14 percent 16 percent 30 percent

Raising tuition or taxes were the least favorable options, at 6 percent and 10 percent respectively.

The need for greater efficiency in colleges and universities is mirrored in the beliefs of parents with a child who currently attends a Texas public university. Eighty-one percent believe that colleges and universities can be run more efficiently.

A recent report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) exposes rising tuition costs among Big 12 institutions at the cost of taxpayers and students. The report reveals that three major Big 12 public universities in Texas—University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University—charged 23.6 percent more on average for tuition and fees in 2009-10 than they did in 2004-05.

Additional findings of the survey show voters believe student evaluations are a valuable means for determining the quality of instruction received. Ninety percent of voters believe there should be measurements in place to determine the effectiveness of the education delivered and material learned by students at colleges and universities, while only 7 percent disagreed. Eighty-five percent of voters believe if they were students that they could effectively evaluate the job the professor did at teaching them. Only 10 percent felt they could not, while 5 percent were unsure.

“The quality of education delivered should be a top priority at all colleges and universities,” Keener said. “Evaluating the performance and effectiveness of faculty and universities will help decision-makers and university governing boards make informed decisions on improving our higher education system to best educate and prepare our state’s future generations.”

The survey was conducted by Baselice and Associates on November 7-9, 2010 with a sample size of 800 respondents. The margin of error to the results of this survey are +3.5%. A summary of survey findings can be viewed by clicking this link.

Justin Keener is vice president of policy and communications for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit free-market research institute based in Austin.

Primary website: www.TexasPolicy.com

Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/TexasPublicPolicyFoundation

Twitter feed: www.Twitter.com/TPPF


David Guenthner
Director of Media and Government Relations

(512) 472-2700
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