One of the most important determinants of economic success (at both a personal and societal level) is higher education. In particular, nationally recognized research universities are essential to future growth. In an increasingly competitive international market, such universities are critical to securing a highly skilled workforce, creating and dispersing knowledge, cultivating entrepreneurship and associated capital investment, attracting high-growth industries, and promoting innovation and economic development.
Texas has historically lagged other parts of the nation (especially California) in the number of research universities. In recognition of this gap, a group of visionary leaders (I was also involved) began pressing to improve the situation. As a result, in 2009, the Texas Legislature established the National Research University Fund (NRUF) “to provide a dedicated, independent, and equitable source of funding to enable emerging research universities in this state to achieve national prominence as major research universities.” Thanks in part to this fund and the efforts of thousands of Texans, we have seen some notable gains.
The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is one important indicator. To be designated in Carnegie’s top level (R1), institutions have to award research/scholarship doctoral degrees and engage in a high level of research. The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, and Rice University have long been part of this group.
Over the past 10 years, Texas has added six universities to the R1 category. In 2011, the University of Houston made the R1 list. Several universities were added in 2016: Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of Texas at Arlington, and The University of North Texas. The University of Texas at El Paso achieved R1 status this year. In addition, other Texas universities are progressing toward ultimate designation.
While this is great news, there remains much work to be done. A more select and prestigious measure for universities is membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) which is commonly known as “Tier One.” Although some people (and schools) refer to the Carnegie R1 designation as Tier One, AAU membership is the true barometer that is universally recognized. Making that elite roster requires a mature and significant research culture. Only three Texas universities are on that select list of 60 US schools – The University of Texas at Austin (since 1929), Rice University (1985), and Texas A&M University (2001). California has nine.
Nonetheless, the progress has been notable and will pay many dividends for Texas. It’s a cause for celebration! Moving up the rankings is about more than bragging rights. It’s a reflection of the level of leading-edge research and top-echelon training occurring in the state, both of which are integral and, indeed, essential to ongoing progress.