August 18, 2009

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

Legislation Passed in the 81st Legislative Session
This article continues the series of articles looking at new laws passed during the 81st legislative session. In this article, I would like to specifically discuss new legislation affecting higher education in Texas. This session we passed a number of bills directly affecting students in North Texas and provided additional pathways for students to achieve post-secondary success.

“Tier One” Universities
National research universities, often referred to as “Tier One” universities, attract high quality faculty and students and produce valuable research. Currently, Texas only has three “Tier One” Universities: UT-Austin, Texas A&M, and Rice University; however, California has nine “Tier One” schools and New York has seven. In an effort to compete nationally in this area, House Bill 51 provides seven emerging research universities in Texas, including the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of North Texas, with a pathway to attain “Tier One” status through new innovative funding options. The legislation provides these universities with a performance incentive funding mechanism based on several factors such as the average number of degrees awarded annually, recruitment of high quality faculty, recognized scholarship and research programs, and high-achieving freshman classes.

Public Law School
Under Senate Bill 956, The University of North Texas System was granted authority to establish and operate a public law school in the city of Dallas. This school will serve as the first public law school for the North Texas region. The Dallas-Forth Worth area is currently the largest metropolitan area in the United States without such a school. Applications will be accepted in the Fall of 2010, with classes starting in the Fall of 2011. The University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law will be located in the Old City Hall building in Downtown Dallas. The building was donated by the City of Dallas and they have committed to renovating and converting the building in preparation for the 2011 school year. The Legislature also appropriated $5 million in start-up funding for the school.

Changes to the Top Ten Percent Law
The Top Ten Percent Admissions law was revised this year, but only for the University of Texas at Austin. In order to allow for greater discretion and flexibility in admissions, those admitted under the Top Ten Percent law will be limited to 75 percent of the freshman class. Additionally, Senate Bill 175 limit students from other states and countries to no more than 10 percent of the class. This change goes into effect beginning with the class of 2011, affecting those high school students about to enter their junior year. Hopefully, capping the number admitted under this law will allow the university to accept students based on their talents, achievements, and experience in conjunction with their GPA.

Excessive College Credit Hours
House Bill 101 seeks to remedy an unintended consequence of college formula funding, one that caused students who received dual credit hours in high school to be charged for out of state tuition if they exceed a certain number of hours. This legislation ensures that dual credit course hours taken in high school will not be counted against the 30 hour cap currently in place, once the student enrolls in a four-year college. These changes take effect for the 2011-2012 school year and guarantees that a student will not have to pay nonresident tuition as long as the courses were taken in high school and satisfied graduation requirements.

Summer Engineering Programs & Scholarships
Currently, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) administers a one-week summer program at public state universities for middle and high school students to learn about mathematics, science, and engineering concepts they are likely to encounter in an engineering degree program. House Bill 2425 expands this program to private universities as well, since almost 25 percent of the bachelors degrees awarded in the state come from private universities.

Additionally, the THECB will establish a scholarship program for all high school graduates with certain credentials that decide to pursue an engineering degree at either a public or private university. By reaching out to those students interested in math and science at a young age, we can help ensure they have the resources needed to succeed at the college level and lead Texas to compete nationally and globally in those fields.

The next article will continue to highlight major legislation which passed during the 2009 legislative session.

As always, please feel free to contact my district office at (214) 370-8305 or my capitol office at (512) 463-0244 if you have any questions regarding state matters. If you have particular questions regarding legislation mentioned in these articles, please feel free to email me as well at I look forward to hearing from you.