Texas State Relishes New Status, Focuses on Future

President Trauth looks out at the campus of Texas State University. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently reclassified the school as an Emerging Research University.
President Trauth looks out at the campus of Texas State University. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently reclassified the school as an Emerging Research University.

The view of the Texas State University campus from its president’s 10th-floor office windows in San Marcos may be the same as it was last week, but the institution has fundamentally changed.

The difference is a seemingly minor word change in the records held by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. In mid-January, Texas State was classified as an emerging research institution.

Texas State joins seven other public Texas universities that are a step below the research university status held by the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

Denise Trauth, Texas State’s president, expects the classification to enhance her university’s reputation and to help recruit students and faculty.

More tangibly, the new classification is a ticket to participate in a race to become the state’s next great public research university.

 

Though being named a research university brings significant infusions of money, entry into the competition does not guarantee the reward. But Trauth said Texas State had been building momentum for years to reach this point, which she called — quoting Winston Churchill —“the end of the beginning.”

In 2004, Gov. Rick Perry called for the establishment of a statewide accountability system for higher education. As part of the effort, the coordinating board divided institutions into five groups: research, emerging research, doctoral, comprehensive and master’s.

At the time, the categories were deliberately not tied to financing. But that changed five years later, when legislators passed a bill establishing incentive funds meant to create more top-tier universities in the state and restricted eligibility to the emerging research institutions.

Although Texas State had fewer doctoral graduates and smaller annual research expenditures than the original emerging re-search universities, it had higher enrollment, graduation and retention rates than many other schools. “I think we were miscategorized from the beginning,” Trauth said.

This year, the university projects that it will award 78 doctoral degrees, compared with the 15 it conferred six years ago. Doctoral enrollments are up to 404 students — an increase of more than 580 percent in the last decade. Research expenditures in the last fiscal year were about $33.5 million, more than double the amount required to be considered an emerging research university.

Starting in fiscal year 2014, Texas State will be eligible for payouts from a matching-fund program that has already granted more than $80 million to the seven other institutions. If the budget allows legislators to put money back in the program — an open question — it matches only new gifts of at least $100,000. There is fierce competition among the universities for the limited money.

University administrators are adding development officers to help and are working on a strategic plan for further growth.

Even more money awaits campuses that are able to meet the state’s definition of a tier-one university, which requires even higher levels of research output and endowment funds. Trauth said Texas State was still far from meeting those criteria. “It’s going to be a stretch for us to get that far in 10 years, but are we going to push, push, push?” she said. “Absolutely.”

 

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