. . .So when Florida Senator Marco Rubio appeared on screen demanding that schools tell students how much they can expect to make after graduation, I thought to myself, “We’ve got that!” When other pro-reformers called for a push toward affordability, proof of student success, and the impact of a degree on the economy, I answered, “Yes, Yes, and Yes.” Not only are the average tuition and fees for the University of Texas’ academic and medical institutions lower than the national average, it is ranked #2 in the U.S. for research expenditures. And UT graduates employed in Texas add greatly to the local economy, making the state’s investment in students worth the money.
Higher Education Reform – A Sizzling Subject
The institutional reform of higher education may not be the hottest-trending topic in social media, but for folks in academia, it is a sizzling subject that is singeing the eyebrows of those involved on both sides of the philosophical fence — U.S. colleges and universities on one side and political and market-oriented supporters on the other. The level of interest in this topic, however, may very well increase once the documentary film Starving the Beast: The Battle to Disrupt and Reform America’s Public Universities begins its theatrical run in in September. See schedule.
Admittedly, you would be hard-pressed to have missed the many recent articles appearing online and in print that are challenging the value of higher education. And it makes you wonder, how did we go from revering the Ivory Towers of academia to denigrating the same institutions as wasteful and inefficient? When I first heard that Starving the Beast was taking on the monumental task of tackling the subject of education reform, I jumped at the chance to attend a screening here in Austin. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I just knew I wanted to hear some sort of explanation about how the crusade for reform came about.
While the documentary focuses on six public universities, the University of Texas is one of the institutions highlighted. Because the vast majority of the screening audience in Austin was from the University of Texas System (UT System), it made the viewing a tad surreal. Together we watched the last five years of System history unfold before us in a movie format — chronicled, encapsulated, and hung out to dry on the big screen. It’s a rough message, but Starving the Beast actually manages to explain the unfolding phenomenon in a clear and fairly balanced way.
Austin Filmmakers Tell a Complicated Story
Starving the Beast, which was created by Austin writer/director and adjunct UT lecturer Steve Mims along with film producer and Violet Crown Cinema founder Bill Banowsky, chronicles the philosophical shift in the way higher education has come to be viewed. Where once higher education was regarded as an investment in citizens for the public good of society, more and more it is being assessed as a commodity with students as consumers and a degree as a product.
One thing is certain, this philosophical shift didn’t happen overnight; it started about 35 years ago when states began radically reducing funding to public universities. When funding was at its peak in 1980, UT received more than 60% support from the state; now, it receives around 12%. Though talk of academic reform began in earnest in 2008, the flames of controversy reached Texas around 2011, and the heat of political “breakthrough solutions” was ultimately felt by Texas A&M and the University of Texas, piquing the attention and interest of academic faculty, staff, and alumni at both schools.
No Need for a Spoiler Alert
Don’t worry, there’s no need for a spoiler alert because there is no end to this debate; the turbulence will continue long after the film’s credits end. What Starving the Beast gives you is a sense of how this hullabaloo began, how it picked up steam, how it has evolved, and where it is today. The reframing of public higher education as a “value proposition”— that which allows a consumer to understand the delivered value of a product — appears to have been borne of a ripple effect, starting with the systematic defunding of higher education back in the 80s. The decrease in state funding necessitated higher tuition and consequent student loan debt, and has ultimately caused U.S. citizens — spurred by market-oriented think tanks — to see a diminishing purpose of public higher education, believing it is nothing more than a commodity.
So, What’s the Answer?
There’s really no answer. How many times have you heard that? But, so it is with the education reform effort. Starving the Beast doesn’t miraculously offer the remedy, but it does give voice to both sides of the argument, allowing filmgoers to realize that maybe both sides, to some extent, are right. While one faction contends tuition is spiraling out of control, student loan debt is astronomical, and the middle class is being sucked dry by higher taxes — the other side supports academic freedom as a function of a capitalist society, as well as provides statistics to prove graduates with degrees make more money, have an easier time finding a job, and enjoy a lifetime of increased opportunities.
For most viewers, stepping out into the sunlight from a darkened theatre isn’t going to make the complexities of the problem any clearer; however, UT System may just have an advantage over other university systems because they started addressing the value of a degree earlier than most. In fact, UT was the first system of higher education in the nation to launch an interactive website — seekUT — that provides salary and debt statistics of actual UT students one, five, and ten years after graduation. The UT System Dashboard highlights key metrics for each of the System’s mission areas, including affordability, student success, research expenditures, and state economic impact, among others.
We’ve Got That!
So when Florida Senator Marco Rubio appeared on screen demanding that schools tell students how much they can expect to make after graduation, I thought to myself, “We’ve got that!” When other pro-reformers called for a push toward affordability, proof of student success, and the impact of a degree on the economy, I answered, “Yes, Yes, and Yes.” Not only are the average tuition and fees for the University of Texas’ academic and medical institutions lower than the national average, it is ranked #2 in the U.S. for research expenditures. And UT graduates employed in Texas add greatly to the local economy, making the state’s investment in students worth the money.
Having now seen Starving the Beast, and knowing what I know about the free tools UT System makes available to students and their families, there appears to be a middleground that would serve both sides in the debate over the role of government in education. So what’s the first step? Start by providing valuable data to students and their families so they can make informed decisions about their education.
Aimee Hendrix-Soto Joins the OSI Family
Now, don’t go singing Traveling Soldier by the Dixie Chicks—you know, the part about the “girl with a bow in her hair”—it’s just too sad . . . and, besides, there is certainly nothing sad about Aimee Hendrix-Soto coming to work at the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) at the University of Texas System (UT System). In fact, we’re thrilled she is joining the OSI family for the coming year, during which time she will be working on special projects related to Chancellor McRaven’s Quantum Leaps, especially Leap #1—the Texas Prospect Initiative.
Aimee, with her interest in educational equity and access, critical literacies, student agency and activism, and qualitative and post-qualitative research methodologies, will be an asset to the upcoming projects, especially given the fact she is currently in a PhD program in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Language and Literacy Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
Prior to entering the C&I doctoral program in 2014, Aimee taught high school English I-IV, AP, and Dual Credit Composition in partnership with Austin Independent School District (AISD) and Austin Community College (ACC ), as well as in Dallas. “I thoroughly enjoy supporting students as they make their way through high school and into their post-secondary lives,” explains Aimee.
In addition to pursuing a PhD and working at OSI, Aimee is collaborating with two former colleagues to research the impact and outcomes of a college writing program at a local area high school.
A Texan since she was three, Aimee earned her BA and MA from the University of North Texas. Now a resident of Austin, she balances her time between work and home, including her spouse, along with cat Bill Meowry and dog Ella Pittsgerald.
The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Us, even more so now that Jamie Carroll has joined the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI). Jamie, a Sociology doctoral student at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, will be working with OSI, the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA), and UT Austin on a 12-month study to track how different courses, teaching methods, and curricula influence students’ progress through the university experience, as well as their later success, including job prospects and career trajectories. She reports to Dr. David Troutman, OSI’s Associate Vice Chancellor, Institutional Research & Decision Support.
As a doctoral student in Sociology, Jamie studies how organizations stratify individual behavior and outcomes. Specifically, she is interested in how educational opportunities shape long-term outcomes in health, civic participation, and the labor market. Her current research uses the High School & Beyond (HS&B) dataset to understand how the curricular paths and academic environments students experienced in high school are related to their health and voting behavior over a 30-year period. HS&B is part of the National Education Longitudinal Studies (NELS) program of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Prior to coming to UT Austin, Jamie received her MA in Sociology at the University of New Orleans where she studied the classroom environments of charter high schools. She received her BA from New York University with majors in Journalism and Sociology, and a minor in French. Her undergraduate honors thesis explored the social construction of laughter in a New York City stand-up comedy club. After graduating, she taught high school math and science in New Orleans with Teach for America, which is when she decided to focus on education research. She also has experience working as a freelance writer for Fortune Small Business online magazine, The Gambit, and Huffington Post.
Jamie grew up in Washington, D.C., but she ultimately found her way to Austin, where she enjoys the company of her fiancée, as well as Gumbo, her Old English Sheepdog, who looks forward to swimming in the beautiful local watering holes.
The Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) welcomes two new members to its Project Management Office (PMO)
While the PM in this blog refers specifically to “Project Management,” PM is an acronym for a lot of other really great things—such as power management, performance monitoring, perpetual motion, purpose-made, maximum power, Paul McCartney, perception management, and a lot more—which, coincidentally, are all complementary to project management. Okay, maybe not Paul McCartney, but the others, absolutely.
Now that project management is a part of the University of Texas System’s Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI), an “O” for “office” is added to “PM” to make it official—UT System Project Management Office (PMO). The PMO got its start earlier this year when Donna Thomas arrived in OSI to serve as Director of System Project Management. She has been establishing the PMO to manage the Quantum Leaps introduced in November 2015 by UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven as part of his strategic plan. Quantum Leaps’ eight initiatives are aimed at providing the citizens of Texas the very best in higher education, research, and healthcare.
New Hires Join the PMO
A Texas native from San Antonio, Mary Avila joins the PMO as its projects and administrative coordinator. She will serve as the technical and functional subject matter expert for the new project management software to track Quantum Leaps’ progress, as well as handle the administrative duties for the PMO. The selection process for the new PM software is currently underway, but we will definitely let you know when a selection has been made.
Prior to arriving at OSI, Mary was the senior administrative associate with the UT System Office of Health Affairs, which has primary responsibility for the oversight of the six health institutions of UT System. She is an eight-year veteran of higher education, having worked at UT Austin and UT Health Science Center at Houston prior to joining UT System.
Mary brings a depth of experience in defining, designing, implementing, and supporting new business processes and tools—skills she developed while working at IntelliQuest and at the Texas State Auditor’s office, where she won four national awards for the best implementation of a performance management system in the public sector.
Direct from Caesars Entertainment Corporation in Las Vegas, Lashelle Inman takes the PMO stage as its program manager to assist Quantum Leaps owners define and transform their strategic plans into manageable program roadmaps for execution, status reporting, and process improvements. She will also assist in defining a framework to help improve, on a continuous basis, the project management culture across UT System administration.
Prior to joining UT System, Lashelle served as program manager at Caesars Entertainment where she was responsible for a multi-million dollar portfolio of highly complex projects that spanned 13 functional areas and required deployments across 34+ properties, both domestic and foreign.
A Texas A&M University graduate with a BA in Political Science and Government, as well as an MBA from Schiller International University, Lashelle has lived internationally—in Germany, but more extensively in England where she resided for 11 years, working as a business analyst, as well as a business development and projects manager. While in England, she worked in the public sector defining strategic initiatives, managing system implementations, transforming business processes, and assisting with organizational change management.
Lashelle, a Native Texan, was born in Kingsville and raised in Corpus Christi. She is surrounded by her wonderful husband, two daughters and a son, and a menagerie of three cats and a dog. She speaks French, German, and Gulf Coast Texan.
There’s a lot to be said for Time. Maybe that’s why there are so many quotes about it. From Benjamin Franklin’s “Time is money,” to Theophrastus’ “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend,” to Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Time and tide wait for no man” – Time gets a lot of airplay, and it certainly plays a major role in our work and personal lives. That’s why it is important to have timekeepers in our lives, and why the Office of Strategic Initiatives is happy to welcome administrative associate and timekeeper Barbara Satterwhite as its newest hire.
Bastrop-born Barbara comes to UT System after spending 15 years at the University of Texas at Austin. She most recently served as a senior administrative associate for Dell Pediatric Research Institute (DPRI), which conducts scientific and biomedical research in collaboration with the Dell Children’s Medical Center and other healthcare facilities.
A self-professed early riser, Barbara hits the deck around 5:00 a.m., enjoying an early morning run and/or brisk walk. Adhering to the words of Virgil, who said, “All our sweetest hours fly fastest,” Barbara spends many hours a week as a dedicated caregiver. She also enjoys cooking; attending her book club, where she reads non-fiction (no self-help books); and cuddling with her Russian Blue cat Polly.
Everyone needs a timekeeper in their lives so we might be reminded of author and journalist Adam Hochschild’s words, “Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.”
Dr. David Troutman has been promoted to Associate Vice Chancellor for Institutional Research and Decision Support
The former Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI), Dr. David Troutman, was promoted to Associate Vice Chancellor for Institutional Research and Decision Support earlier this year. Still part of OSI, David’s new role will focus primarily on research in support of the Chancellor’s Vision and Quantum Leaps and other collaborative research initiatives.
This position, and others, are part of Chancellor Bill McRaven’s plan to create a team of talented and diverse members – known as a Team of Teams – to implement his Vision and Quantum Leaps that will tackle the big challenges facing our state and nation. The Quantum Leaps initiatives will enhance the University of Texas System’s ability to provide the very best in higher education, research, and healthcare to the citizens of Texas.
1. The Texas Prospect Initiative
2. The American Leadership Program
3. Win the Talent War
4. Enhancing Fairness and Opportunity
5. The UT Health Care Enterprise
6. Leading the Brain Health Revolution
7. The UT Network of National Security
8. UT System Expansion in Houston
Team of Teams
In order to achieve the goals of Quantum Leaps, McRaven is creating a network of specialists who can find quicker answers to problems. Rather than using hierarchy and rigid command, the Chancellor has chosen a structure that engenders creativity, boldness, and teamwork through communication and collaboration. Known as a Team of Teams, this extensive network will tap expertise across diverse sectors, with each individual adding value to the enterprise.
Troutman is part of this Team of Teams. He will provide a dedicated resource for data and analytics for the Quantum Leaps leads, including vice chancellors and system and campus personnel associated with the initiatives. He will provide research and decision support focused on trend analysis and thought leadership to identify emerging issues and key institutional needs. These efforts are expected to broaden and deepen the capabilities of UT System’s institutional research (IR) offices. Troutman will also partner and collaborate with senior university leaders to transform data into information in support of university decision-making.
Congratulations are in order for Dr. David Troutman, but each one of us, in our own inimitable way, is an integral part of the Team of Teams here at UT System. We are charged with the task of shaping the future, not only of the great state of Texas, but for our entire nation. This strategic plan will go a long way in establishing a solid foundation for our continuing efforts to enhance UT’s legacy.
Our most recent newcomer to the University of Texas System’s Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) is Ankita Agarwal. Serving as Director of Finance and Business Analytics, Ankita supervises the business intelligence and information technology teams within OSI, and is responsible for finance analytics for UT System.
Ankita has more than 12 years of experience in banking, high-tech, and education industries, having held senior leadership and management positions in corporate finance. Most recently, Ankita led the shared services, strategic procurement, and finance projects for the North American region for Wincor Nixdorf. Prior to that, she was the chief financial officer for the commercial segment at PNC Financial Services, where she was responsible for forecasting, performance analytics, and strategic planning for a $9 billion commercial loan portfolio.
The name Ankita (pronounced un-kee-tha) is a Sanskrit word meaning “marked for prominence,” which is appropriately descriptive given Ankita’s Agarwal’s impressive education and experience. She is a Forté Foundation Fellow and holds a Financial Risk Manager (FRM) certification. She earned a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in finance from the UT Austin McCombs School of Business, a Master of Science in biomedical engineering from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor degree in chemical engineering.
OSI welcomes Ankita Agarwal.