State House Bill 1351 would leave fate of more degree programs in TSUS hands

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The fate of programs with low student enrollment over a five year period at SHSU soon could lie in different hands.

The Texas Legislature is considering changing the decision-making power over low-producing programs from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to the boards of regents governing public universities, including the Texas State University System Board of Regents, which governs SHSU.

House Bill 1351, filed by State Representative Poncho Nev?rez, attempts to give rural universities a fighting chance to keep admissions up.

The coordinating board’s rule for low-producing programs dictates that if 25 or fewer students enroll in an undergraduate degree program within five years, the program is either eliminated or consolidated into another degree program. The rule also carries over to masters and doctoral programs if they don’t enroll 15 or 10 students, respectively.

After an institution is notified of its elimination-pending programs, it can choose to terminate or consolidate the programs in question. Another option for universities is to request an extension on the time it should theoretically take to fulfill the required enrollment, though the ultimate decision of the program’s fate is up to the coordinating board.
HB 1351 would hand the decision over to each university’s board of regents, potentially saving low producing degree programs from termination.
Nev?rez’s Legislative Director, Leo Aguirre, said that the current THECB rules discriminate against smaller rural schools like SHSU.

“Because of these [rules], access to certain degree programs have diminished in many parts of the state,” Aguirre said. “More specifically, public universities and community colleges in remote or rural areas who offer degree programs to students who would not otherwise have access to them.”
“To allow graduates to be able to function within an increasingly globalized economy, helping low-producing programs to become more productive is a necessity especially in rural areas in the state, not to eliminate them,” Aguirre said.

Lucy Heston, an assistant director at THECB, said that most of the final decisions on closing a program is based on saving money. She said that estimates show nearly $73 million has been saved after four years of using the low-producing programs rule.

According to Heston, the latest low-producing programs list sent to Texas universities gave Sam Houston two LPPs. Various university officials were unable to say which programs were under fire. Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jamie Hebert could not be reached by press time.

SHSU has had 16 programs deemed as low producing since the program started in 2010, although none have been eliminated, according to THECB documents.
During last year’s review, Sam Houston’s master’s program in chemistry was under consideration of being eliminated but received a temporary extension in order to fill the enrollment deficiency, according to department Chair Richard Norman.

“The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board gave our program a “temporary exemption” of two years to increase our numbers, and as I said, we have done so for the Fall 2007 through Summer 2012 period,” Norman said.

HB 1351 has yet to leave the higher education committee. It would take effect on September 1.

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