Judging from his first batch of legislation, Kel Seliger — the new Senate Higher Education Committee chairman — has an agenda is focused primarily on buttoning up the state’s massive system of colleges and universities.
On the whole, they are wonkier than they are headline grabbing, which is somewhat different than his counterpart on the House Higher Education Committee, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.
“I wouldn’t put it that way, but I’ll concede it,” Seliger said. “I hope this will streamline things and make them more efficient.”
Branch’s slate of bills, meanwhile, checks off some of the sector’s highest-profile issues, including requiring institutions to offer four-year guaranteed tuition plans and pushing outcomes-based formula funding, both of which have been endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry. He also hopes to make boards of regents more transparent by requiring them to broadcast all of their meetings.
Of course, there are a few key differences between the two chairmen. Most notable, perhaps, is that Branch is considering a run for attorney general, an ambition he recently expressed in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.
It’s also Branch’s third session chairing a higher education committee, whereas it is Seliger’s first.
“We’ve been working on these bills for a while,” Seliger said, “but that’s months, not years. I think this is a product of talking to people about issues in higher ed and seeing what we can do to improve things.”
Seliger’s bills include moving the authority to approve campus construction projects from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to boards of regents, capping the number of credit hours required to earn an associates degree, and easing the process of “reverse transfers” — awarding associate’s degrees to students after they have already transferred to a university.
Branch has also filed a bill that he hopes will streamline the transfer process. He attempted to pass a similar bill last session, but it was significantly altered by the time it got through the process, and he has decided to take another shot at it.
Seliger's final higher ed bill filed this week would make a small tweak that he says will free up Tuition Equalization Grants, which help bring private university prices down to public university levels, for about 50 new students at no extra cost to the state.
But that’s not to say that some flashier pieces of legislation are not in the works. Seliger left the door open for more higher ed bills to be filed.
“We’re trying to be discerning,” he said. “But I’m not going to say we’re not going to pass anything else.”
One thing to watch out for: Seliger has been an outspoken critic of the state’s “top 10 percent rule,” which allows automatic admission to public universities for Texas at or very near the head of their high school class.
Were it not for a current law that eases automatic admissions at the University of Texas at Austin — effectively making it a top 7 percent rule — the freshman class would be made up entirely of “top 10” students.
That cap is currently at risk because of a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision on the consideration of race in admissions, but both Branch and Seliger have said they will try to make sure it is preserved.
While Seliger has not yet filed a bill dealing with automatic admission, which he would like to repeal, he did say, “We’re talking about that.”