Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Some Republicans embrace tuition re-regulation

This is a welcome change, but let’s not be distracted by what isn’t being said.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

Tuition and fees at the state’s public colleges and universities would be capped at their current levels and only be permitted to grow at the rate of inflation under a bill filed Tuesday by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.

Schwertner telegraphed his filing of Senate Bill 233 for the 2015 legislative session in a Sunday column in TribTalk. In the column, he argued that because state lawmakers started allowing university governing boards to set tuition rates without legislative oversight in 2003, “the dream of attaining a college degree is becoming a nightmare for more and more Texas students.”

Average tuition and fees in the state have more than doubled since tuition was deregulated and, as Schwertner noted in a news release announcing his filings, that growth has significantly outpaced the rate of inflation.

“I think the Legislature has a responsibility to consider whether the deregulation policies enacted over a decade ago still make sense for Texas students,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Here’s that press release from Sen. Schwertner referenced in the story. I’m glad to see some Republican acknowledgment of this problem, but if you read Schwertner’s TribTalk piece and you’re old enough to remember the year 2003, you will note what is prominently missing from his words: The fact that tuition deregulation was passed by Republicans at that time as a way to deal with a budget shortfall by allowing the public universities to set their own tuition rates in return for getting less funding from the state. If Schwertner and Greg Abbott are truly serious about this, they will acknowledge that simply capping tuition without making up the reduction in state funding for public higher education will cause other problems and is just shirking responsibility altogether for those problems. This is a good start, and kudos to Schwertner for being the point person for it, but it’s only part of the puzzle.

Democrats, at least the ones that weren’t in then-Speaker Tom Craddick’s pocket in 2003, opposed tuition deregulation and have fought to repeal it since then for precisely the reasons laid out by Schwertner, with the crucial difference being that they support the state paying its fair share. A Legislative Study Group report on higher education that I linked to in 2008 but which is unfortunately not at that URL any more covers a lot of this ground. Note the line about California having ten tier one universities that Abbott alluded to the other day. That LSG report also included an op-ed by Rep. Garnet Coleman from 2004, in which he correctly predicted everything that’s now finally being acknowledged today. Here’s an excerpt:

Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick exerted unyielding political pressure to compel the tuition deregulation bill’s passage, using Texas’ $10 billion budget shortfall as the rationale. While top state officials were patting themselves on the back for not raising taxes, they were saddling Texas college students and their families with staggering hikes in tuition rates.

Perry claimed in his State of the State address that education represents the greatest investment we can make in a future of prosperity. He then agreed to slash general revenue funding for higher education by $259 million, which includes his veto of $55 million for excellence in research funds. Yet, the governor simultaneously fought for and received $295 million for a new, unproven economic development fund that allows him to hand out financial incentives to businesses he is attempting to lure to Texas.

[…]

Knowing that it would further strain the ability of many students to pursue a college education, our short-sighted leaders forged ahead with their plan to deregulate tuition. Students holding jobs to pay for their college education will be required to work longer hours or take out additional student loans to cover the costs of unchecked tuition increases.

For example, tuition rates are set to rise by an average of approximately 12 percent this spring at the University of Texas System’s institutions. A student taking a 15-hour course load at the system’s flagship institution, the University of Texas at Austin, faces an even greater increase of 26 percent. By fall, the same student will pay 52 percent more for tuition than he did the previous year.

One major flaw of tuition deregulation is its affect on older students. Proponents of this policy failed to consider the fact that not every Texas university is a flagship and not evey student is a fresh-faced recent high school graduate. At the University of Houston at Victoria, for instance, the average attendee is 33. Increased costs are especially devastating to these nontraditional students who already have jobs, families and other responsibilities. Many cannot afford the extra burden.

Tuition deregulation also has serious consequences for two popular state programs, the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan and the Texas Grants Program. Parents and grandparents who were planning on securing a college education for their children and grandchildren by locking in tuition rates through the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan (formerly the Texas Tomorrow Fund) will no longer have that opportunity. Recent tuition spikes and uncertainty about future tuition costs have forced that program to close its doors to new enrollees.

Additionally, fewer Texas students will receive grants from the state to offset tuition costs. Without even taking into account the impact of deregulating tuition, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board already projects a 12 percent decline in Texas Grants recipients by 2005. Tuition hikes across the state will further diminish the number of new recipients.

Again, that was written in 2004. As is so often the case, we should have listened to Rep. Coleman. It took a decade longer than it should have, but we would be well advised to listen to him now.

Related Posts:

3 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    The deregulation of college tuition was very disappointing. The republicans and democrats make me sick on this issue. The Republican House passed it and sent it over to the Senate. The Democrats in the Senate could have killed it but they didn’t. Both parties abandoned the poor in Texas. No one cared. However, bring up the Abortion issue and you have riots in the capital. These parties make me sick. Sometimes I think I could come into agreement with Steven in Houston and Kuffner on 80% of just about everything.

    Ronald Reagan said “if you agree with me 80 percent of the time, you’re an 80 percent friend and not a 20 percent enemy”. Sure wish both parties would follow that philosophy.

  2. Joel says:

    i totally disagree. yes, it would be better for the lege to fund “state” universities adequately. but this is so far from happening it would require staggeringly large amounts of money that the state does not currently have.

    there is nothing inherent in tuition deregulation that makes college harder to afford. this is what financial aid is for. strangely, that seldom comes up in these discussions. a portion of the tuition increase is set aside to assist families who would not otherwise be able to cover the increase to their tuition. so it should be neutral for most lower and lower middle class families. it shoudl not prevent anyone from going to the best public they can gain admittance to.

    in fact, even after tuition deregulation, our state’s in-state tuition is relatively low compared to other “top tier” states’ publics. the real problem with tuition deregulation is the upper and upper middle class families who just like to bitch about college costs. the people complained are the ones who make enough no to warrant any assistance at either tuition rate. and this is certainly not a new phenomenon.

    meanwhile, the larger issue is that our state universities, as a whole and individually, suck. we can make fun of california all day, but the fact is that they have at least six state universities more highly regarded than any public school in texas (everywhere except the football field). us news has ut-austin (#53) ranked lower among “national universities” than uc-berkeley (#20), ucla (#23), uc-san diego (#37), uc-davis (#38), uc-santa barbara (#40), and uc-irvine (#42). to say nothing of the other 30-odd public universities in texas, most of which just get thrown into the list of schools at the bottom that aren’t even worth ranking. “top tier” tech or utsa? well, maybe you need to get to third tier first.

    reducing revenue sure isn’t going to help with that.

  3. Paul Kubosh says:

    The awarding of financial assistance is as arbitrary as national rankings. Joel you are right about one thing. We disagree. Have a Merry Christmas.

Bookmark and Share