Voters approve $3.9 billion Texas University Fund: Texas Tech to receive an initial $44 million

Texas voters have voted resoundingly in favor of Proposition 5, a constitutional amendment that establishes the Texas University Fund, a $3.9 billion endowment meant to help “emerging” research universities in the state boost their research capacity and output. With more than 95% of the vote counted, the measure was approved by a margin of 66% to 34%.

A primary aim of the amendment is to make Texas more competitive with other states like California and Florida in terms of the number of nationally ranked research institutions it can claim. A column in the Dallas Morning News written by two state senators called it “an investment in Texas’ future that we cannot afford to pass up.”

Proposition 5, which was a legislatively referred ballot initiative, renames the National Research University Fund to the Texas University Fund. To fund it, Texas lawmakers will allocate $3 billion from the state’s budget surplus. Another $900 million will be added from the former National Research University Fund.

Prop 5 will also allocate the interest, dividends, and investment earnings from the state’s rainy day fund from the preceding fiscal year. The total amount allocated in fiscal 2024 would be limited to $100 million. The annual limit would be adjusted for inflation each year but would be limited to a 2% growth rate.

Currently, four public institutions are eligible to receive proceeds from the new endowment - Texas Tech University, Texas State University, the University of Houston and the University of North Texas. To qualify, a university must have spent at least $20 million on federal or private research each year for the preceding three years and have awarded an average of at least 45 doctoral degrees annually during the previous three years.

The use of Texas University Fund money would be limited to: 

Providing faculty support and paying faculty salaries.

Purchasing equipment or library materials.

Supporting research performed at the institution, including undergraduate research.

Increasing technology transfer, commercialization and patent development.

Increasing the number of research doctoral graduates in Texas.

“The Texas University Fund represents a transformational investment in higher education,” explained Texas Tech University President Lawrence Schovanec. “It will help grow the research enterprise at universities benefiting from these funds, resulting in greater innovation, economic development and federal investment.”

The initial distribution to Texas Tech for the 2024 fiscal year is projected to be approximately $44 million.

At Texas Tech, these funds would be invested in current areas of excellence, with more research money available to study energy, agriculture and sustainability. These areas remain the lifeblood of West Texas, but the funding also will help launch a new initiative, One Health, to help secure the future of the region. 

“Previous funding from the National Research University Fund helped Texas Tech grow its research activity over the past several years,” said Vice President for Research & Innovation Joseph Heppert. “The Texas University Fund will multiply that impact by supporting faculty and student research and innovation that makes life better for communities in our state, nation and world.”

How would the Texas University Fund help fuel our economy?

It's a question many people might ask: What does research being done at Texas Tech do to help keep the economy thriving?

The university is one of the top institutions in the nation when it comes to entrepreneurship, commercialization and patent development.

With the Texas University Fund's specific call to help with commercialization and increasing technology transfer, more resources can be put into adding new ideas and businesses to the Texas economy. 

“My studies have shown that research expenditures actually have a higher multiplier for the economy than most other sectors do because basic research translates into all kinds of things that spin-off,” said Bradley Ewing, the C.T. McLaughlin Chair of Free Enterprise in the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business. “Whether it's new technologies or new processes, you get a number of standard economic impacts from IT jobs out of that job growth. 

“Labor income tends to be higher because a lot of the jobs that are created actually pay a little bit more than average. And that leads back, full circle, with greater government revenues that are generated through various types of sales tax and those types of things. It builds a stronger economy as a result. The research dollars really translate into a lot of economic benefits.”

How would the Texas University Fund help feed the world?

In West Texas, cattle production is the leading revenue source. Nearly one-third of the beef cattle in the U.S. come through the region and researchers from the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources work daily to ensure the industry has everything it needs as new challenges arise.

“There is a considerable amount of research on nutritional aspects, quality aspects, water use efficiency and reducing methane and greenhouse gas emissions coming from cattle,” said Darren Hudson, Davis College's assistant dean for research. “Those are all major components of the overall profitability and success in the beef sector.”

But Texas Tech doesn't focus only on beef. The Department of Plant and Soil Science has researchers working on drought-tolerant food crops and testing new technology to help farmers better manage their resources.

CASFER, the National Science Foundation engineering research center housed at Texas Tech, is working to create a nitrogen-circular economy by capturing nitrogen from waste and turning it into fertilizer.

Other research at Texas Tech is looking at food deserts and how to better supply rural areas with reliable sources of food with high nutritional value.

Texas Tech is leading the line in food research, and more investment will only help broaden the university's ability to secure a stable food supply.

“The recent and potential future infusions of funds into the research endeavor is transformational,” Hudson said. “It allows us to move from a place where we are doing good research with limited resources into a position where we can invest more heavily on those critical research areas for our region.”

How would the Texas University Fund help clothe people?

More than 15% of the world's cotton supply comes from the region Texas Tech calls home.

As the population grows, the output of fibers needs to follow suit, and there is no university in the world in a better position to help producers than Texas Tech.

With a USDA Cotton Classification Complex on campus in Lubbock and an endless laboratory of cotton fields around the region, the opportunities for research into cotton are limitless. 

“Maintaining yields and increasing competitiveness of cotton production in the state and region is vitally important,” Hudson said. “But it's not just important in Texas and the region, it has a global impact.”

Texas Tech's location in an agriculturally vital area provides the university with an advantage that few other Carnegie Tier 1 research institutions have, and many can only dream of. 

“Our research contributes to understanding how to operate and produce food and fiber in these semi-arid environments,” Hudson explained. “It also is advantageous for our students because they see it hands-on right here. Many of them come from rural areas in West Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. They live it on a daily basis and then they see this research applied to it.

“It offers them a unique opportunity. Rather than seeing it secondhand someplace else, they're seeing it firsthand right here and even participating in that research in our labs and on our farms.” 

How would the Texas University Fund help keep us healthy?

Texas Tech's impact on health, particularly in rural areas, is already immense and has grown massively in recent years with the addition of the School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo.

The One Health initiative will tie together elements of human, animal and environmental health. It's a critical convergence of healthcare research topics geared toward giving the world the clearest picture possible of how to maintain a healthy population.

By bringing the vet school and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center together with other entities like the Institute of Environmental and Human Health and the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Texas Tech is poised to lead the world into a healthier and more productive future.

“Humans, animals and plants exist as parts of one overarching ecosystem,” Heppert said. “A One Health approach brings together researchers in all three of those areas to better understand how the health of humans and animals affect each other as they interact with their environment. 

“Engineers, biologists and veterinarians from Texas Tech are collaborating with physicians and researchers from other Texas Tech University System institutions to find ways to detect and treat diseases like cancer and diabetes.”

How would the Texas University Fund help energy independence?

In Texas, energy production plays a massive role in the state's vitality. Texas Tech is working to ensure that stays true long into the future.

Research in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering touches every part of the energy industry. From the Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering, which recently raised the mast on a full-scale oil well drilling rig right here on campus, to work on micro-grids, semiconductors, wind energy, solar power, hydrogen power and battery storage, Red Raiders are leading the way. 

And energy research isn't just about creating more energy. It's about securing the grid, helping rural communities and making sure the power stays on when it's needed most. 

“The idea of energy independence, particularly as it pertains to the research that we've done here, involves coming up with a stable power grid,” Ewing said. “And that comes from a diversified portfolio of energy sources. Once you have those two things in place – research that is developing a stable power grid and research that helps to diversify our energy sources, whether it's wind, solar, natural gas or other things – it provides a foundation for a resilient economy.

“And once you get that resilient economy, a lot of times, it's even more pronounced in rural areas. There are a lot of advantages that can occur in areas involved with agriculture and anything that is water related as well.”

How will Texas Tech invest the Texas University Fund money in our people?

Texas Tech invests heavily in its people, and part of that is making sure they have the resources they need to be successful. 

From recruiting new faculty for more targeted research, to making sure researchers on campus have the equipment they need to change the world, the Texas University Fund offers Texas Tech the opportunity to elevate itself, the region and the entire state of Texas. 

“The results of this past legislative session place upon us an even greater onus to seize what is before us – to plan and execute for the funds we've received and those, like the TUF, we anticipate,” said Schovanec. “We are steadfast in our belief that the best is yet to come for Texas Tech.”

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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