With a stable endowment from oil revenues and a new governor who talks of lifting the state’s public universities into the top tier, Texas proved a powerful draw for University of Washington President Michael Young.

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Texas A&M University might not be as highly ranked in national ratings as the University of Washington, and College Station is no Seattle. But Texas has one thing Washington does not: more money for higher education.

That’s the reason UW President Michael Young talked about most when asked why he decided to leave the UW to take the job at Texas A&M, and it’s true: Bolstered by a stable endowment from oil revenues, and led by a new governor who campaigned on a promise to lift five of Texas’ public universities into the top 10 nationally, Texas is aggressively working to improve its higher-education system.

And while the Lone Star State cut higher-education funding during the recession, just as every state did, the amount it allocates per student for its public colleges — once much lower than Washington’s — is now about 20 percent higher.

“Indeed, Texas is being more generous with its research universities than is Washington,” said David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Young, 65, said it was the promise of ample funds and the chance to build something new that lured him to take the job as president of Texas A&M’s main campus at College Station, after serving a little less than four years at the helm of the UW. He is expected to leave before the academic year is over — sometime in the spring.

In an interview last week, Young was careful not to criticize the Washington Legislature for being too tightfisted with its education dollars. “But there is an ambition there in Texas, and a vision, and a willingness to put both resources behind it and hire leaders who like to build,” he said.

Young said he expects Washington to eventually begin reinvesting again in higher education, but not soon. “I wouldn’t say I don’t see it down the road. But it’s happening right now in Texas.”

Still, experts say that Young’s decision isn’t necessarily the same one that many other candidates would make — and that the UW won’t have any trouble recruiting top candidates for the job here.

When it comes to research dollars, for one, few universities can compare to the UW. In 2013, it spent more than $1.2 billion on research and development, the third-highest in the nation, and received the second-highest amount in federal research dollars. (Texas A&M was not far behind, spending $820 million in research and development from all sources.)

“The University of Washington’s one of the great universities in the country — a top five public university with research dollars of $1 billion a year,” said higher-education headhunter Bill Funk, president of R. William Funk & Associates and the man who recruited Young to the UW.

“It’s a prize university position,” Funk said.

State with vision

About 15 years ago, Texas ranked near the bottom nationally in the number of students who went to college, and it still lags the national average in education attainment — just 27 percent of its residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 32 percent in Washington and 29 percent nationwide, according to census figures.

So in 2000, Texas embarked on an ambitious plan called “Closing the Gaps” to substantially increase the number of college degrees it awarded, said George Pernsteiner, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), a national association of state higher-education leaders that publishes an annual report examining higher-education funding in the 50 states.

The Texas plan was based on the belief that if the state didn’t do a better job of increasing college participation, its economy would suffer.

Texas achieved its goal ahead of schedule. By 2013, nearly 38 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in Texas were enrolled in college, compared with 36 percent in Washington, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Texas spends about 6 percent more per college student than the national average, including state appropriations and tuition revenue, according to SHEEO.

Washington spends about 24 percent less than the national average.

Oil is a big part of the difference.

Years ago, Texas set aside oil revenue to fund an endowment for its research universities, the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems. The fund has made Texas institutions some of the highest-endowed public universities in the nation.

For example, the University of Texas system’s endowment of $25 billion is second only to Harvard, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Texas A&M’s endowment, at $11 billion, is seventh-largest in the nation.

By comparison, the University of Washington’s endowment is $2.8 billion — 31st largest nationally.

More recently, Texas set aside about $500 million solely to enhance its research universities, said Longanecker, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education president. It has established special local taxing districts for its community colleges as well, he said, making them inexpensive to attend and very well-financed.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, campaigned on a promise to lift five of Texas’ public universities into the top 10 nationally, as measured by U.S. News & World Report. And last month, he proposed redirecting $50 million earmarked for funding startup businesses into a new program to recruit Nobel laureates and nationally known researchers to Texas universities.

Abbott may not get all that — so far, the budget proposals in the Texas Legislature’s two chambers have offered only meager increases to higher education for the biennium.

The prospects in Washington are uncertain, too. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget gives higher education only one-half of the increased funding the universities have requested, and freezes tuition for two more years.

“I think we all have grave concerns about our level of funding,” said Paul Francis, executive director of the Council of Presidents, a group made up of the six presidents of the state’s four-year public institutions.

Texas has also been bold about increasing the number of low-income and minority students who attend college. The state has been so effective that it’s become a model for other states, said Pernsteiner, the SHEEO president.

National figures show 32 percent of college-age Hispanics in Texas, and 36 percent of African-Americans, were enrolled in college in 2013.

In Washington, only about 24 percent of Hispanics, and 28 percent of African-Americans, were enrolled in 2013.

Wasn’t looking to go

Young says he wasn’t looking for a new job.

But late last year — in November or early December — he was contacted by Texas A&M, and he later met with A&M System Chancellor John Sharp in Seattle. Young and his wife, Marti, then flew to College Station for a tour.

Around the same time, he was contacted by the University of Texas at Austin, which is also looking for a new president.

During a news conference in Texas on Monday, Young said he became convinced that Texas offered a unique opportunity and A&M was the right fit, in part because of “the excitement of a university that’s just structured differently than any place I’ve ever been.”

“This institution has a reach across the state, a focus on areas that are really critical to national and international dialogues.”

He said he then withdrew from consideration for the UT-Austin job.

Although no salary has been set, Sharp has promised to make Young one of the highest-paid university presidents in the country.

It’s hard to imagine a public official in Washington bragging about giving an incoming president a big paycheck; some here thought that Young’s $622,000 base salary was too much already. (Had he stayed another year, Young would have gotten a deferred compensation payment of nearly $1 million.)

Still, Young says he’s not leaving because of the money — if a top salary had been important to him, the Harvard-educated lawyer said, he’d have left academia years ago and taken one of many offers he’s received to be a partner in a major law firm.

He believes the UW will be very attractive to many great candidates.

And the UW has many assets beyond what the state provides. While state funding is important, it does make up only about 4 percent of the UW’s overall budget, which includes a medical center and research. Seen another way, though, Washington pays only 25 percent of the cost of educating a UW in-state undergraduate; the remainder comes from tuition. Twenty-five years ago, that ratio was reversed.

James Ferrare, managing principal of the higher-ed search firm AGB Search, also agreed that the UW shouldn’t have trouble finding candidates for the job.

“I think UW has an excellent reputation nationally, even internationally — it’s an incredible school with very strong faculty,” Ferrare said. “Whoever accepts that position is going to come from a very good institution.”