Feb 5th 2016 | Posted in Education by Peter Partheymuller

Carnegie Foundation names Tech, three others Tier 1 universities

Some 20 years ago, leaders made the decision to boost Texas Tech University research efforts and raise its national reputation as an elite university. Not long after that, the Texas Legislature announced its own intentions to increase the number of nationally recognized research universities in the state.

Logo for Texas Tech University. Texas Tech University research paid off with recognition as a Tier 1 institution.The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and Rice have long been considered elite research institutions, and Tech wanted to be up there with them. It, too, had a strong reputation for its research endeavors when it came to its agricultural programs. But it was a conscious decision by university leaders to funnel resources toward the school’s larger research efforts that has now paid off with recognition among the “Highest Research Activity” category of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

“It had always been a strong teaching university,” says interim President John Opperman (pictured). “But 15 or 20 years ago, Tech made a conscious decision to be a research university. The goal was to be considered among the top 100 public research universities, and part of that was to be classified as Tier 1 of the Carnegie Foundation classifications and with the AAU (Association of American Universities) schools, which is a more elite group.”

The AAU recognizes about 60 universities in the United States and Canada. Just three — UT, A&M and Rice — are in Texas. The Carnegie Tier 1 classification is also an exclusive club. There are 115 of them nationwide, 81 of which are public schools, with only eight in Texas. Along with the traditional three powers, the University of Houston (UH) has been a Tier 1 school for years. With this latest reclassification, Tech, UT Arlington, UT Dallas and the University of North Texas (UNT) joined them.

“All of that is about, ‘How do we improve the institution? How do we improve the reputation of the institution?”

john_opperman2State leaders in the past 10 or 15 years have made it an explicit goal to increase the number of elite research universities in Texas. “I think some of that was comparing Texas to California, which has a lot more Carnegie Tier 1 universities,” Opperman says.

The movement culminated in the 2009 legislative session, which saw passage of House Bill 51, establishing the National Research University Fund (NRUF), which identified eight emerging national research universities. Those schools were Tech, Texas State, UH, UNT and the UT campuses in Arlington, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio. Tech was the first to gain access to funding from the NRUF in 2012. This week’s announcement of four more Texas universities achieving Tier 1 classification, Opperman says, “is a clear indication that that’s working.”

While Opperman expresses some reservations about universities focusing too much on rankings and trying to improve criteria used in national ranking systems, he says that “Metrics are important.” He speaks about how the rankings are formulated, using the number of doctoral programs a school offers, partnerships with industry, the number of doctoral degrees conferred, the amount of funding tied to research and so forth.

Tech has always focused on its core strength in agricultural studies and research, as evidenced by the December 2015 announcement that the school intends to establish a veterinary school.

“You have to build on your strengths, because that’s where you’re drawing the most dollars today. Every institution has to focus on the quality of those programs,” says Opperman. But the university is also directing more resources to its broader research efforts and, like much of academia, it is putting “a lot more focus on areas that really make a difference in bettering the state as a whole and on interdisciplinary research. It really helps that we have a Health Science Center here in Lubbock. That allows us to perform research that crosses academic disciplines.”

Opperman was named to the interim position at the beginning of the year. While there’s no official timetable for a permanent replacement for James Nellis to be named, he expects the process to take from six months to a year, once the search committee is named, which is expected to happen next week.

Until then, he plans to continue the university’s efforts as laid out in its long-term planning and will be active in helping the school attain its goals.

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