SENATE COMMITTEE ON NOMINATIONS
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
1:00 p.m. or upon adjournment
Pursuant to a notice posted in accordance with Senate Rule 11.18, a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Nominations was held on Wednesday, March 18, 2009, in the Senate Chamber.
Senator Kevin Eltife
Senator Jane Nelson
Senator Eliot Shapleigh
Senator Mike Jackson
Senator Glenn Hegar
Senator Robert Nichols
Senator Kirk Watson
Senator Kevin Eltife, the acting chair, called the meeting to order at 2:10 p.m. The following business was transacted:
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Nelson to introduce Michael Savoie. Senator Nelson briefly detailed the career and qualifications of Savoie, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Ellis to introduce Welcome Wilson Jr., Michele Mosbacher, and Carroll Ray to the committee. Senator Ellis briefly detailed the careers and accomplishments of each, and recommended them to the committee.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Huffman to introduce Jacob Monty. Senator Huffman briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Monty, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Shapleigh to introduce Richard Rhodes and John McKinney. Senator Shapleigh briefly detailed the career of Rhodes and highly recommended him to the committee. Senator Shapleigh briefly detailed the career of McKinney, and highly recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Eltife read the introduction of Senator Watson's constituent Stephen Wroe Jackson. Senator Watson wholeheartedly endorsed Jackson to the committee.
Chairman Eltife called Steven Wroe Jackson, Richard Rhodes, Michael Savoie, and Welcome Wilson Jr. of the Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation to appear before the committee, and invited the nominees to share their comments. Chairman Eltife announced that Dora Ann Verde was unable to appear due to a scheduling conflict. He confirmed that Senator Wentworth requested that the committee waive her appearance.
Michael Savioe detailed the history and the mission of the agency.
Chairman Eltife thanked the nominees for their willingness to serve, and recognized Senator Shapleigh for questions.
Senator Shapleigh emphasized the importance of assuring accessible lending options for students, especially in the face of rising tuition costs.
Senator Shapleigh asked Savoie to comment on the marketing report released at the federal level. The report detailed numerous conflicts of interest between finance officers in student lending and lending institutions.
Savioe responded that the board has a very strict ethics policy that prevents the acceptance of gifts by any officers. Savioe noted that the board is also aware of any and all donations or attempted donations made to the board or the officers.
Senator Shapleigh inquired about improving outreach programs to encourage increased participation in student loan programs. Senator Shapleigh noted that many Hispanic students in his district are not aware of the opportunities afforded them, and also may find it difficult to compile the appropriate financial aide documents.
Savioe responded that they have concentrated significant resources on ensuring that information for potential borrowers is offered in their native language. Savioe stated that they have increased the amount of proactive outreach in Hispanic communities by informing students and parents of their options, and working with them and their high school counselors to ensure that the correct forms are completed.
Senator Shapleigh stressed the importance of moving students through college in a timely manner, and without an enormous debt. Senator Shapleigh noted that only 3.8% of students at UTEP graduate in four years. Senator Shapleigh cited two major factors for the low percentage of timely graduations: the lack of knowledge of how to progress through the university system, and tuition increases.
Chairman Eltife thanked the nominees for appearing before the committee. The nominees were left pending awaiting the arrival of a quorum.
Chairman Eltife recognized the nominees to the University of Houston Board of regents, Nelda Blair, Jacob Monty, Michele Mosbacher, and Carroll Ray to address the committee. Welcome Wilson Sr., the Chairman of the University of Houston Board of Regents, introduced himself and the nominees to the committee. All of the nominees briefly addressed the committee.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Tommy Williams to introduce Nelda Blair. Senator Williams recommended Blair to the committee without reservation.
Chairman Eltife thanked the nominees for appearing before the committee, and for their willingness to serve.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Shapleigh for questions. Senator Shapleigh stressed the importance of the Board of Regents in shaping good university policy, and cited education as an important component of economic recovery and growth.
Senator Shapleigh presented the nominees with a chart that details the percentage increase in mandatory fees among Texas Universities from the period of 2002 to 2008. Senator Shapleigh noted that the University of Houston has the highest percentage of growth in fees at 139%.
Senator Shapleigh asked the nominees to detail what policies are in place at the University of Houston to contain tuition increases.
Mosbacher explained that the board felt that tuition increases were necessary last year, but she is hopeful that they will not be this year.
Ray confirmed that the board does not believe a tuition increase this year will be necessary. She also mentioned that the regents are looking to improve enrollment numbers and graduation rates.
Blair expressed her embarrassment at the percentage of tuition increase that has occurred at the University of Houston. Blair explained that this year's increase was due simply to an increase in costs. She also mentioned the need for more state funding to balance cost increases.
Monty responded that there was strong support by the students on campus for the tuition increase. Monty mentioned that the University has a problem graduating students in four or five years due to its high numbers of part-time students. He expressed his commitment to improving the graduation rate.
Senator Shapleigh presented the nominees with a chart detailing the graduation rates of Texas Universities. Senator Shapleigh asked if the University of Houston has adopted a specific plan to improve graduation rates.
Ray responded that the university has an incentive program to encourage students to graduate in a timely manner. Ray mentioned that the University of Houston is not a typical university due to the high number of working and part-time students.
Senator Shapleigh asked if the university has added nighttime or Saturday classes to accommodate working and part-time students. He also asked the nominees to detail any potential on-campus work-study programs.
Ray responded that they will look at the possibilities of adding Saturday classes and work-study programs. Ray also mentioned that they are planning to look at other metropolitan universities to examine how those institutions have successfully improved their graduation rates.
Senator Shapleigh encouraged the regents to put in place mandates to improve graduation rates. He emphasized that the current numbers are not sustainable from a public policy stand point.
Wilson commented that 70% of University of Houston students work thirty hours a week. He continued to say that four year graduation rates are not relatable for those individuals.
Senator Shapleigh stressed that increasing graduation rates is achievable if specific goals and plans are put in place. Senator Shapleigh cited UTEP as an example. He also mentioned state funding as an important tool in improving higher education institutions.
Chairman Eltife commented that the Legislature is equally responsible for ensuring that higher education is funded properly in the state. Chairman Eltife expressed his desire to work with the regents to improve higher education and make it more affordable.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Shapleigh for a comment.
Senator Shapleigh highlighted the elimination of the inheritance tax in 2003. He noted that the tax brought in $334 million to the state. Senator Shapleigh observed that tuition deregulation has cost the state approximately an equivalent amount of money.
The nominees were left pending awaiting the arrival of a quorum.
Chairman Eltife invited Eliseo Cantu and John McKinney, nominated to the Texas Veterans Commission, to offer comments to the committee. Both nominees briefly introduced themselves to the committee.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Shapleigh for questions. Senator Shapleigh inquired about how the Veterans Commission will improve outreach so that more veterans are using existing, paid-for programs.
McKinney detailed the requirements necessary for veterans to be eligible for a pension.
McKinney responded with regards to outreach programs that the commission is looking at compiling active email addresses of veterans in order to more effectively communicate with them. McKinney detailed some of the problems they are having in obtaining active email addresses.
Cantu responded that the commission is making every effort to obtain an active email address from veterans when they are in contact with them.
The nominees were left pending awaiting the arrival of a quorum.
At 3:05 p.m. Senator Eltife moved that the committee stand recessed subject to the call of the chair; without objection, it was so ordered.
Senator Mike Jackson, Chair
Brian Carey, Clerk