"This will change our state and make us competitive with states like California and New York," which have more nationally recognized research universities, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Branch, a Republican from Dallas.
Texas now has three Tier I universities: two public, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University in College Station, and the private Rice University.
The institutions that lawmakers refer to as "emerging research universities" are the University of Texas' campuses in Arlington, Dallas, El Paso, and San Antonio, along with the University of North Texas, the University of Houston, and Texas Tech University.
Officials of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board say it could take 20 years and a lot more money before any of the seven reach the status of the state's existing Tier I universities.
The top-tier legislation also includes authorization for a $150-million bond issue for the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and $5-million for Texas A&M University at Galveston. Both were badly damaged by Hurricane Ike last year. —Katherine Mangan