Stephen F. Austin State College, one of many final Texas public universities to stay unbiased, may lastly shed its unaffiliated standing—a step that highlights the growing complexities concerned with operating a school or college.
“It’s turning into tougher to be a stand-alone establishment,” interim Stephen F. Austin president Steve Westbrook mentioned. “You’ve bought all the prices of complying with federal and state laws. You will have the unfunded mandates that we’re coping with. We’ve bought all kinds of tuition waivers and exemptions that we’re required to provide. After which the growing value of deploying know-how and all of the cybersecurity prices and staffing that comes together with that. Fairly quickly these issues start to snowball.”
Becoming a member of a system may assist the college cut back prices by sharing companies and sources, he mentioned. Moreover, Texas college methods are inclined to have extra representatives in Austin and on the federal stage, which profit the college.
To date, 4 of the seven methods in Texas are interested in including Stephen F. Austin State to their ranks, however the college’s technique of vetting potential companions is simply starting. The college’s Board of Regents will make the ultimate determination on which, if any, system to affix, and state lawmakers in the end must log off.
Questions on whether or not Stephen F. Austin ought to be a part of a system will not be new, Westbrook mentioned. For years, the rural-serving establishment with practically 12,000 college students has fielded casual invites from a number of methods to debate affiliation. However it wasn’t till this summer time that the Board of Regents determined to behave on these invites earlier than it undertakes a seek for a brand new president.
“If we resolve to not affiliate, effectively, then, we are going to proceed with the presidential search,” Westbrook mentioned. “But when we resolve to simply accept an invite for affiliation, then that might influence the best way that subsequent president could be chosen, as a result of finally that president could be reporting to the chancellor of a system quite than this board.”
Energy within the Community
Given the myriad challenges going through greater training, it’s not stunning that some universities and schools throughout the nation have sought to merge, even whereas others search to interrupt from current methods to safe larger autonomy.
Thomas Harnisch, vp for governmental relations on the State Greater Training Govt Officers Affiliation, mentioned being a part of a system permits universities to share sources, lower your expenses and safe extra political clout.
“There’s an influence to having a community of faculties and universities that isn’t accessible as a stand-alone, so collaboration issues,” he mentioned. “Greater training leaders lately have talked concerning the notion of ‘system-ness’—that the entire will be larger by way of the sum of its elements by way of these networks and collaboration.”
Alisa Hicklin Fryar, a professor of political science on the College of Oklahoma, mentioned Stephen F. Austin’s potential transfer to affix a system is sensible.
“It virtually looks like becoming a member of a system sooner or later is inevitable [for the university],” mentioned Fryar, who is also the information director for the Alliance for Analysis on Regional Faculties. “The extra fascinating phenomenon is that it hasn’t to date.”
Thirty-five of Texas’ 37 public universities are a part of a system, in keeping with Stephen F. Austin.
Nationally, it’s troublesome to find out what number of unaffiliated regional public universities exist as a result of greater ed governance constructions differ by state, Fryar mentioned.
“There’s been numerous discuss mergers and consolidations, however what has been missed are these conversations about multi-institutional methods which are making an attempt to strengthen and develop and discover higher methods to be simpler, extra environment friendly and get extra sources,” Fryar mentioned.
Including Stephen F. Austin may give some Texas methods extra credibility and legitimacy as they develop their statewide footprint, she mentioned.
For the college, being in a system would carry extra sources and experience concerning governmental affairs and contract negotiations with third-party suppliers resembling Zoom and Canvas, she mentioned.
“There’s no motive to count on that presidents are simply going to know every little thing they should know going into these negotiations and choosing [third-party] companions,” Fryar mentioned. “At regional schools, they don’t all the time have the capability to do form of high-level perspective evaluation.”
‘A Reasonably Exhausting Course of’
To date, the College of Texas, Texas A&M College, Texas State College and Texas Tech College methods have expressed curiosity in Stephen F. Austin.
To find out which system may be the most effective match for the East Texas establishment, directors purpose to have a “wide-open and clear” course of, Westbrook mentioned. A number of campus councils and stakeholder teams will submit inquiries to the methods, which shall be requested to reply by Oct. 6. The stakeholder teams will vet their responses and likewise develop their very own studies on the strengths and weaknesses of every system. These studies shall be offered on the regents’ Oct. 30 assembly and can embrace prompt standards for the board to think about because it weighs whether or not to affix a system.
Westbrook mentioned he hopes to higher quantify the benefits of affiliating with every system as a part of the method. There’s no front-runner but.
To Fryar, the Texas State system, which has seven campuses and no true flagship, looks like essentially the most pure match.
“Stephen F. Austin is a robust regional faculty, and it has robust roots in its group,” she mentioned. “It might be becoming a member of form of a bunch of equals in numerous methods within the Texas State College system. [But] the useful resource distinction that might be accessible on the opposite methods may be compelling. It’s exhausting to know for positive.”
Westbrook mentioned that by way of the questions from campus teams, the board will be taught what’s most necessary to the group. He expects the system analysis course of to be complicated however productive.
“It is a quite thrilling course of, regardless that it’s a quite exhausting course of,” he mentioned.
In response to a school survey performed in January, a majority of college school members assist becoming a member of a system, mentioned senate chair Chris McKenna, an affiliate professor within the division of enterprise communication and authorized research.
“The variety of potential benefits cited by respondents … included components just like the potential for improved state funding, availability for extra analysis and program collaborations, extra assist for school analysis, capacity to attain infrastructural value financial savings, basic value sharing, and improved institutional management,” McKenna wrote in an e mail.
The board desires to resolve whether or not to affix a system and which one by the top of the autumn semester, earlier than the state Legislature convenes. That will give state lawmakers time to undertake a invoice permitting Stephen F. Austin to affix a system. Final yr, Midwestern State College joined the Texas Tech system, which Westbrook mentioned provides lawmakers a playbook.
Westbrook mentioned some stakeholders are anxious about whether or not the college will have the ability to hold its identify and id.
“That’s not stunning to me,” he mentioned. “We shall be 99 years outdated in a few days and on the point of have a good time our centennial yr, so the identify and the id of the college is paramount.”