New Texas law requires more class details online

July 12, 2010 6:24:55 AM PDT
Public colleges and universities in Texas face the cost of making more detailed class descriptions available online so students and parents can get a better idea of what they're getting for their money. Some administrators are scrambling to find the money to institute the new law, which takes effect this fall, as schools face potential funding cuts. The 2011 Texas Legislature must deal with a projected budget shortfall of up to $18 billion.

"Higher education is one of the largest investments you'll make in your life," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham.

She hopes the additional information will make students less likely to drop classes.

"Change is difficult," said Kolkhorst. "But I think this is fair and good for the consumer. We want more consumers, more kids going to college."

Martyn Gunn, vice provost for academic affairs at Texas A&M University, said he does not think students will benefit.

"We're faced with laying off faculty in the next biennium to meet the budget cuts, and here we are spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars to implement this," said Gunn.

Kolkhorst's bill marks the first time all public institutions in the state have been ordered to make more information available to students and anyone else, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

The law requires information about class assignments, the curriculum and student evaluations of faculty, plus details on department budgets, for every undergraduate class.

Some say implementing the change will be a challenge. "It's a large-scale technical problem," said Gretchen Ritter, a vice provost at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's lots and lots of man hours."

Most of the information already is available, but the law is intended to make it easier to find.

"My impression is, the Legislature did it to help students shop around," said Don Davison, a faculty member at Galveston College who serves on the Texas Faculty Association governing board. "But I teach economics. In economics, one of our core beliefs is, the more mandates you put on the supply of anything, the harder it is to supply it. It takes away from our core mission, which is spending time with students."

Prince Wilson, a senior biochemistry student at the University of Houston and president of the student body, said students who care to look already can find out a lot about classes and faculty.

But more information will be good, he said. "This will be in addition."


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