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UT Chancellor Meets With Obama, Higher Ed Leaders in D.C.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was among a dozen leaders invited to the White House for a talk with President Obama about the challenges facing higher education.

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa during a Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency hearing on Sept. 21, 2011.

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was one of a dozen higher education leaders from around the country invited to the White House on Monday for a meeting with President Obama about the issues facing colleges and universities.

Cigarroa told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday that the president spent roughly an hour with his guests, including Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, and Jamie Merisotis, the president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation for Education, among others.

“There’s no doubt that he has a significant interest in higher education,” Cigarroa said of Obama. “He’s very concerned about the increase in student loan debt.”

Cigarroa said much of the discussion focused on improving access and quality while keeping costs contained. It also touched on questions of hastening students’ time to degree, competency-based advancement and optimizing the use of facilities on campus.

In August, Cigarroa unveiled a framework for advancing success at the University of Texas System, which has garnered bipartisan support and national attention. He said he felt it was aligned with Obama’s goals.

“I actually felt very comfortable around that table, because we’ve been very thoughtful about this,” he said.

Thorp spoke about conducting external reviews of his institution’s organizational structure on a recurrent basis to ensure it was using its money responsibly. Cohon discussed the importance of courses that are blended with traditional and newer, technology-based models of learning. Merisotis mentioned the need to focus on students’ job attainment beyond graduation.

Cigarroa said he anticipates that Obama will take the ideas and call the participants and other higher education leaders to action, keeping in mind that one approach won’t work for every institution. 

He also expects a federal push for more outcomes-based funding that rewards universities for graduations, as opposed to enrollment-based funding currently used in Texas. Efforts to change the state’s funding system to include more outcomes-based metrics hit a roadblock in the last legislative session, but lawmakers signaled that they’d like to hear more about it in the 2013 session.

With all the ideas, Cigarroa said, “The trick is translating to implementation. Words on paper are one thing. … The proof is in the pudding.”

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