by Kay Bailey Hutchinson
A thriving economy depends on a vibrant business culture, and Texas is arguably the best state to do business in the nation. Our low taxes and reasonable approach to regulation, coupled with our abundant natural resources, have made us a prime destination for industries from energy to technology.
But there is one other crucial factor to success: higher education.
It is a major draw for companies looking to establish headquarters in any given locale. They want an educated workforce, access to the best research capabilities and an infrastructure that has the built-in capabilities to undertake public-private partnerships without putting the majority of the burden on the private side. This is what a state rich in academic excellence provides. And while Texas has outstanding universities, which already produce excellent research, there is still more we can do. My goal is for Texas to be the number one destination for research and technology companies in the US.
Presently, we have three tier-one universities: UT Austin, Texas A&M and Rice. California has nine, New York has seven. With strategic investment, we could easily take our number to six. We have the resources, and six of our universities are already on the cusp of tier-one status. What we need now is to commit to taking them over the tipping point. We also have room to create several specific centers of excellence. This would mean colleges and universities focusing on one particular area of expertise and developing their capabilities to make them the number one world destination for that field.
For instance, when Gil Grosvenor, Chairman Emeritus of National Geographic, was looking to set up the Gil Grosvenor Centers for Geographic Education, he looked all over the country for the schools with the absolute best geography programs. Texas State University was one of them. I was so pleased that I went to TSU and told them that we could work together on building on their already solid foundation to make it the world destination for geography. Why does that matter? Because understanding the world’s geographic layout and formations is fundamental to everything from our ability to fight a war on foreign terrain to how to clean up the Gulf of Mexico to how to tap our natural resources for fuel and economic gain.
Or take Lamar University, which has the benefit of being located next to the second biggest chemical complex in the world. That means they can gear an engineering program towards the industry, giving students a head start by interning and researching in the area’s refineries, and giving the industry a local talent pool to utilize as they work to advance technologies and make a better, more productive energy industry.
And while UT is already a tier-one university, I am committed to making it the world destination for anyone who’s focused on trade with Latin America. Our geographic location and cultural heritage make UT the perfect location for this additional center of excellence. This is vitally important both to America’s economic interests, with Latin America as our number one trading partner, and to the larger benefit of creating strong regional economies which in turn create a stronger hemisphere that benefits both the US economy and security.
These are uncertain economic times and we need more fiscal responsibility. But higher education is not an expenditure; it is an investment in Texas’s economic future. Investing in higher education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math, will take us not just the next five years, but the next 25 and beyond. It will attract more businesses to our state, make the industries in which we excel – like energy – more productive and bring in new industries as we build our capabilities.
In short, excellence in higher education is a matter of national competitiveness for Texas and of international competitiveness for the United States. Let’s commit to making Texas home to at least three and possibly six additional top-tier universities by the end of the decade, for our sake and for that of the nation.
Kay Baily Hutchinson is U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson from Texas.