Making a bet on higher ed, emerging technologies

Lawmakers this session made a series of key investments in higher education and emerging technologies, moves designed to keep Texas at the forefront of innovation and job growth in the years to come.

The session’s key funding bills — HB 1, the state budget, and SB 30, the supplemental appropriations bill — directed significant dollars for investment in higher education, including:

  • $9.9 billion spent on formula funding across all public colleges and universities;
  • $1.5 billion for various state financial aid programs; and
  • $3 billion in seed funding for the new Texas University Fund, which will provide support for research funding for emerging research universities.

While these dollars will generally benefit the state’s ability to develop and sustain a highly-skilled workforce, it is also important that colleges and universities, policymakers and industry work together to make Texas a leader in the technologies of the future that will drive the economy. Fortunately, multiple bills on emerging technologies were passed this session that will help build these collaborations. These bills are supported by an additional $1.7 billion, which includes:

  • $698.3 million for semiconductor development;
  • $666.4 million for higher education electronics research and development; and
  • $350 million for aerospace research and development.

Together, the $14.4 billion for higher education and the $1.7 billion for future technologies can be used to realize the state’s full potential on innovative technological developments.

Semiconductor Technologies

The global demand for semiconductors – the computer chips that power modern technology like phones, refrigerators and cars – has only continued to grow. The federal CHIPS and Science Act and its $52.7 billion for semiconductor research, manufacturing and workforce development aims to help meet this demand.

Given recent announcements by world-class businesses, from the $17 billion Samsung semiconductor factory in Taylor to the $30 billion Texas Instruments plant expansion in Sherman, Texas has the potential to become a global leader in the semiconductor industry. However, drawing down the CHIPS Act federal funding will require coordinated and strategic planning and partnerships between colleges and universities, state legislators and agencies, and industry leaders.

HB 5174 passed the Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature to become law. It would establish the Texas Semiconductor Innovation Consortium, which would take on the task of formulating the strategy for advancing the state’s leadership in semiconductor research, design and manufacturing. HB 5174 also directs $698.3 million to award grant funding for semiconductor economic development as well as research and design projects.

In addition, SB 30 provides $440 million to the University of Texas at Austin to establish the Texas Institute of Electronics and $226.4 million to the Texas A&M University System for quantum and artificial intelligence chip fabrication and the Center for Microdevices and Systems. Both of these initiatives can lend to and benefit from semiconductor research and development.

Together with the consortium’s grant funding, colleges and universities’ formula and research funding as well as project-specific appropriations like that for UT Austin and the A&M System can be used to establish the public-private partnerships needed to meet the requirements of the CHIPS Act, thereby maximizing the state’s ability to draw down federal funding.

Space and Flying Vehicles

Other industries where lawmakers laid out their intent to establish partnerships between colleges and universities and industry leaders are the aerospace and automotive industries. Texas is proactively staking its position as a leader in future technologies for both industries:

The Legislature again recognized the need for strategic planning and organization to successfully foster these industries. Lawmakers passed HB 3447 to establish the Texas Space Commission, which aims to strengthen the state’s leadership in civil, commercial and military aerospace activity. HB 3447 provides $350 million to build facilities adjacent to the JSC and to create the Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund.

Additionally, the Legislature passed SB 2144, developing the Advanced Air Mobility Advisory Committee. This committee aims to identify statutory changes needed to facilitate implementation of advanced air technologies in Texas.

Both HB 3447 and SB 2144 require close collaboration with Texas colleges and universities. The requirements include public-private research for technology development and education and training for workforce development. These legislative charges are another area where these stakeholders can leverage these higher education investments to ensure the success of the state’s strategic planning and research efforts on future technologies.

Cooperation key to maximize success

Although the Legislature appropriated funds to explicitly support its legislative charges relating to future technologies, it would be prudent for colleges and universities, industry leaders and policymakers to take advantage of the multiple streams of available funding in a coordinated manner.

The billions in higher education formula, financial aid and research funding approved by the Legislature can enhance the research and workforce development initiatives that will stem from the partnerships between government and industry. This is what it will take to make Texas a leader of the future, now.

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