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Texas House Speaker Joe Straus says State needs to ‘catch up’ on higher education while praising UNT-D

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From Dallas South News Wire

DALLAS— Texas House of Representatives Speaker Joe Straus said today at the University of North Texas at Dallas that the state’s most recent legislative session was one of the most positive for education in a generation. Despite a $9 billion loss in general revenue, Straus said, “We increased college funding by $1.2 billion.”

“I am committed to educational excellence so the Texas of the future is more prosperous than the Texas of today, so that we are the next frontier of innovation and opportunity,” Straus said. Progress will mean playing “catch up” in the area of developing more “Tier One” research universities in the state, he said.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus

A Tier One university normally spends more than $100 million in research annually. Texas currently has three such universities, but that low figure puts the state far behind states like Massachusetts and New York, which have seven research universities each, and California, which has nine. If Texans pass Proposition 4, a ballot initiative scheduled for a vote in November, more institutions – including UNT in Denton – could receive research funding.

Progress in the state was being demonstrated on the campus of UNT Dallas, Straus said, as construction has begun on the institution’s second general academic building. Construction of the 100,000-square-foot building was made possible by legislation releasing $25 million in previously authorized tuition revenue bonds.

Straus said the new building was “good news” for Dallas, which to date has remained one of the few large cities in America without a public university. When UNT Dallas opens its doors as a four-year institution in 2010, Straus said, “You won’t be able to build out the campus fast enough with the rapid growth in this region.”

That sentiment was echoed by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who was one of a half-dozen area mayors who listened to Straus’ address and updated him on projects within their cities.

“We are the only large metro area in the entire nation without a Tier One institution,” Leppert said. He added, however, that Dallas was making substantial investments in transportation, tourism, and the arts. The 16 different projects underway in Dallas will attract higher education dollars to the area, Leppert said.

Rep. Helen Giddings (District 109) organized the event at UNT Dallas. She said that District 109, which consists of Dallas, Lancaster, Wilmer, Hutchins, Cedar Hill, DeSoto, and parts of Red Oak and Ovilla, has added jobs, but still needs to make progress in education. The high school dropout rate in the area is “way too high,” while the college-going rate is “way too low,” she said.

“Only about 20 percent of the citizens in our district have a college education,” Giddings said, adding that more citizens would have access to education as UNT Dallas expands in professional areas like pharmacy.  “On this campus, we anticipate a partnership with UNT Denton that will produce a School of Pharmacy for Dallas. Houston has three, Dallas has none.”

John Ellis Price, vice chancellor and president designate of UNT Dallas, said the new university will make significant contributions in “increasing the human capital” of Dallas and the State of Texas. Human capital, he said, is a key determinant of urban prosperity.

“CEOs for Cities has recently noted that educational attainment explains 58 percent of any city’s success as measured by per capita income, and that increasing college attainment by one percentage point in Dallas will produce an annual ‘talent dividend’ of more than $4 billion,” Price said.

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The University of North Texas at Dallas is a 21st century teaching institution and a component of the University of North Texas System. Founded in 2000 as the UNT Dallas Campus by the University of North Texas in Denton, the flagship of the UNT System, UNT Dallas will accept its first freshman class in Fall 2010. The University’s goal is to train citizens to be productive and lead in a global environment and to promote the values of virtue, civility, reasoning and accountability.

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