By Wendy Gragg
Killeen Daily Herald
They didn't get what they were asking for, but at least they got something.
That's how proponents of higher education in Central Texas are choosing to view the compromise made by the Legislature this week regarding funds for the future Texas A&M-Central Texas.
"We've got our foot in the door, which is the most important thing," said John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, which has lobbied extensively for Tarleton State University-Central Texas to become Texas A&M University-Central Texas.
The original version of House Bill 153, which cruised through the House last week, authorized $45 million in tuition revenue bonds to begin a campus for Texas A&M University-Central Texas.
The Senate slashed the bill last weekend, cutting the Texas A&M-Central Texas portion to $25 million in TRBs. Lawmakers also added the caveat that the Central Texas school must reach an enrollment of 1,500 full-time student equivalents before the TRBs will be authorized.
The Central Texas venture wasn't the only one to be trimmed by the Senate. The original bill allowed institutions across the state to issue more than $3.5 billion in tuition revenue bonds to fund well over 100 projects. The Senate whittled the legislation down to 63 projects at about $1.8 billion and approved the slimmer bill Sunday night.
The first hurdle for Texas A&M-Central Texas remains the same, though – Tarleton-Central Texas must reach 1,000 FTSEs in order to take the A&M name and gain autonomy.
Sen. Troy Fraser, D-Horseshoe Bay, worked to have that threshold enrollment reduced to 1,000 FTSEs, only to have the Higher Education Coordinating Board reinstate the 1,500 as a requirement to receive money to build a campus.
"It's an ongoing discussion of the cart before the horse," Fraser said. The coordinating board says grow and then we'll give you a building, he said, while Texas A&M-Central Texas proponents say give us a building and we'll grow.
"I disagree with their rationale," Fraser said.
Crutchfield and others say reaching the 1,000 threshold enrollment will help propel the school to the required 1,500.
"It's very important to get to stand-alone status," Crutchfield said. "It means we determine our destiny."
Autonomy for the school means decisions regarding programs and courses will be made locally, which is expected to help the school better serve and attract more students.
Also, once the school becomes a stand-alone institution, its online course enrollments will be counted in the FTSEs, inching the school that much closer to the 1,500 marker. Online enrollments do not count toward the 1,000 enrollment goal.
The school currently hovers near an enrollment of 1,000.
Dr. John Idoux, executive director of Tarleton-Central Texas, said he doesn't understand why the additional enrollment requirements were tacked onto HB153 for Texas A&M-Central Texas and the other system centers in Dallas and San Antonio, but not other schools.
Regardless, Idoux said he's glad Texas A&M-Central Texas made the final cut for HB 153.
"We were included in the TRB bill; that's very positive," he said.
Retired Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor, chairman of the Central Texas University Task Force, echoed that sentiment. "We're going to get there yet. No one has given up," he said.
Fraser said the TRBs will be discussed again in the 2007 regular session and he intends to use that session to work at getting Texas A&M-Central Texas a campus sooner. He said 1,500 is an achievable goal, but he'd like to have a building prior to that.
"The Legislature giveth, it taketh away, it giveth again. A whole lot of things can happen legislatively," Crutchfield said.
Contact Wendy Gragg at firstname.lastname@example.org