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Home | Tag Archives: texas tuition

Tag Archives: texas tuition

Texas Senate Approves Two-Year Tuition Freeze, 1% Cap on Increases after That

In a nod to one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top priorities, the Texas Senate voted Tuesday to freeze tuition at public universities for two years — and then place strict limitations on increases after that.

But the idea still faces an uncertain future. The proposal will now head to the House, where leadership is much more skeptical of tuition caps.

Senate Bill 19 was approved 29-2 with little discussion. It would ban schools from hiking costs for the two years after the 2017-18 school year. After that, schools would be limited to increases of 1 percent, plus the rate of inflation. And those increases would only be allowed if schools met a series of performance metrics set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

SB 19’s author, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has been pushing for a “performance-based tuition” bill since 2015, when the idea passed the Senate but died in the House. The thinking behind it is that schools should have to show improvements in graduation rates and reductions in administrative costs before they change their prices.

Senate Bill 19 merges that proposal with a tuition freeze. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have supported such a freeze, saying it was a mistake by the Legislature to cede control of tuition costs to colleges in 2003. Since then, tuition costs have increased by more than 140 percent.

The bill as currently written will likely generate strong pushback from universities’ supporters, who are already alarmed by dramatic cuts to their schools in the proposed Senate budget. Each school now faces a reduction in state funding of between 6 percent and 10 percent. A tuition freeze would limit the schools’ ability to make up for those losses.

“SB 19 could be a good idea, but it does not require the state to increase or even maintain its own investments in higher education,” said Garrett Groves, director of the Economic Opportunity Program at the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Meanwhile, Seliger himself questioned whether an increase capped at 1 percent would even make it worth it for schools to chase the goals set out in the bill.

Worries about state funding for higher education are widespread this legislative session. Hours before the Senate voted on Senate Bill 19, the members of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education spoke out about the situation for the first time in the group’s six-year history. The group of prominent business leaders and philanthropists formed in 2011 in response to governance changes at top state schools proposed by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

“Higher education transforms lives for the better; fuels medical, technology and intellectual discoveries; and prepares present and future generations to lead, invent, create, teach and hire,” the group said. “We cannot shortchange our state’s future by underfunding education.”

Seliger, who is chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and serves on the Senate Finance Committee, acknowledged those worries on the Senate floor Tuesday.

“I am determined to do everything we can to keep those universities whole,” he said.

He also said Tuesday that he thinks more money for universities will be added into the state’s budget.

The House’s version of the budget calls for more funding. And Senate Bill 19 could face a hard time in the lower chamber. House leadership has expressed support in recent months for Seliger’s performance based tuition ideas. They have been far more skeptical of tuition freezes.

Last month, House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican, said tuition in Texas seems to be a “pretty good bargain.” Students are applying to schools in record numbers, he noted.

“The supply and demand seems to be working,” he said.

And on a stage next to Seliger at a Texas Tribune event earlier Tuesday, House Higher Education Chairman J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, said he would have to see the contents of any proposed tuition cap before he took a stance. When pressed, however, he said that — “on its face” he would not be for a cap.

House support for another Patrick higher education priority approved Tuesday is also unclear. By a party-line 20-11 vote, Senators approved Senate Bill 18, which would eliminate a rule that requires schools to set 15 percent of money raised from tuition increases for financial aid.

Democrats said they were worried that the change would mean less help for poor students. Seliger disputed that notion, however, saying most schools have already said that they don’t plan to direct fewer dollars toward financial aid.

Over the objections of some Republicans, he added an amendment to the bill that would create a new $30 million state grant program available to students who attend schools that reduce their tuition by 5 percent.

The Senate is expected to give final approval of the bill on Wednesday before sending it to the House.

Read more of our related coverage:

  • The top three sources of revenue for Texas public universities are all being targeted for reductions or freezes by federal or state government leaders.
  • Last month, the Senate Higher Education Committee considered several billsrelated to limiting tuition increases.

Author:  MATTHEW WATKINS – The Texas Tribune

Free Tuition for Military Kids Creates a Conundrum for College President Veteran

KINGSVILLE — Steven Tallant, president of Texas A&M University-Kingsville, credits two American institutions for his success: the military and higher education.

He has studied or taught at universities in Florida, Utah, Wisconsin and Texas, and been stationed by the Air Force in Mississippi, Portugal and Washington, D.C. Those experiences helped him rise from a young night-shift worker at a soup factory to a high-ranking official in the Pentagon, and then to a job overseeing a school with over 9,000 students.

And that’s why the last few years have been so hard for him. Texas universities, lawmakers and veterans groups have been in a prolonged tussle over the future of a state program that provides free tuition to veterans’ children. The program’s backers say it’s the least Texas can do to thank veterans for defending the country. The universities say it’s way too expensive and is driving up college costs for everyone else.

As a veteran and a college president, Tallant has been forced to pick a side. And he has reluctantly chosen the side of the universities. He has been among the most important voices calling for paring back the program known as Hazlewood. But it hasn’t been an easy stance to take. His struggle highlights how difficult the Hazlewood issue has become.

“We owe the veteran everything,” he said. “We are not here today without the veteran.”

But, he added, “To me, this is a social justice and economic justice issue.”

Upward mobility

Tallant is a first-generation college graduate. He grew up in Paris, Texas, and his first job after high school was working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift at the local Campbell’s Soup factory. During that time, he also took classes at Paris Junior College, and was determined to make it to a four-year school.

In 1969, during the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Navy with the goal of earning the benefits of the GI Bill, he said. He served until 1973, and then used those benefits to pay for a bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and a master’s in social work at the University of Utah.

Then, he joined the Air Force as a social worker. He investigated cases of child abuse, helped enlistees deal with problems of mental health and worked to help families handle the stress of having a member overseas. His military career culminated at the Pentagon, where he served as chief of Air Force family research.

“I truly understand the military family,” he said.

But Tallant says he also understands low-income students who struggle through college without much family help. He became a professor once he retired from the military, and then rose through the ranks of academia. As president of A&M-Kingsville, he presides over a school that is a few miles away from a Naval air station. But the university also serves poor students from across South Texas. About 84 percent of A&M-Kingsville students receive some sort of financial aid. More than 63 percent receive federal Pell Grants, which are given to low-income students. Many of those students are trying to become engineers or teachers. And they struggle as hard as he did to work their way through school, Tallant said.

That’s what worries Tallant. Hazlewood was originally conceived as a program for veterans. But the Legislature began allowing ex-military members to pass on their unused credit hours to children in 2009. At the time, the state predicted the expansion would cost universities about $10 million per year. In fact, the cost of the program grew by more than 15 times that much. By one estimate, Hazlewood could cost schools a combined $380 million by 2019. (Some veterans groups say that guess is way too high. The cost in 2015 was $178 million, which schools say is already too much.)

The universities get little help from the state to pay for the program. So, university officials say, schools have to make up the costs by raising tuition for everyone else. A&M-Kingsville waived $2.3 million worth of tuition last school year.

Tallant says that money could have otherwise been used to lower tuition for all students. Or it could have paid for full-ride scholarships for 114 poor students, or funded the debt payments on a brand new 70,000-square-foot building.

Texas A&M University - Kingsville has a large number of veterans, veterans' kids and ROTC members on campus, due in part to the presence of a Naval Air Station across town. EDDIE SEAL FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNE
Texas A&M University – Kingsville has a large number of veterans, veterans’ kids and ROTC members on campus, due in part to the presence of a Naval Air Station across town. EDDIE SEAL FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

In a perfect world, he said, the state would pay the tuition for veterans’ children. But that seems unlikely, given the cost. So Tallant has met with lawmakers and asked at hearings in Austin that the benefit to be pared back.

Veterans and their spouses should still get free tuition, he says, but in most cases the children should not.

He says he feels passionate about that opinion, but still struggles to express it. He worries about appearing insensitive, or making it look like he doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices veterans have made.

But ultimately, he said, he doesn’t believe the program is fair.

“Why is the cost to provide Hazlewood being paid by students of modest means in South Texas — and not the entire state?” he said.

Looking for a solution

Not everyone at A&M-Kingsville agrees. Last year, 299 students benefited from Hazlewood’s “legacy” provision. And the school often hears from veterans two or three years away from sending their kids to college. Sometimes the parents don’t know how they’d pay for their kids’ school without it.

Michael Lugo, director of the A&M-Kingsville’s veterans affairs office, said the state shouldn’t break the promise it made to those families.

“Patriotism goes a long way, and Texas has the best benefits. I don’t want that ruined,” said Lugo, who served 22 years in the Navy, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has six kids of his own, and may one day use the benefit himself.

Many lawmakers agree, and that sentiment helped block changes to the program in 2015. That year, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, authored a bill that would have substantially reined in costs by restricting most military children’s access to the free tuition. Veterans would have had to serve six years before they could pass on the benefit to a child, and the benefit would have expired 15 years after the veteran was discharged. That would have meant children born after the veteran was out of the military wouldn’t have been eligible.

The bill passed the Senate, but died in the House soon after a passionate speech by Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio. Farias, a veteran, resigned in 2015 and underwent a kidney transplant this summer. But he returned to the Capitol last month to urge his former colleagues to protect the program.

“I don’t care where the money comes from; I don’t care if someone grows a tree and gets it from there,” he said. “We just need to continue to fund the veterans and our families.”

Some legislators are determined to enact some kind of fix in 2017, though no leading plan has emerged. Tallant has shown up at hearings to make his case. During one such meeting, he described talking about the issue with his two sons. They grew up in a military family, and moved all over the world while they were young. They loved the experience, he said. When he asked them if they felt like they deserved free tuition, they said no, he said. The money would be better spent elsewhere on people who needed it more.

At A&M-Kingsville, there are a lot of possibilities, Tallant said.

“We are a small campus, and every penny counts,” he said.

Read more: 

 

Author:  MATTHEW WATKINS – The Texas Tribune

In the Texas House, Concern But Less Fervor Over College Tuition

Members of the Texas House on Tuesday took their swing at the higher education topic du jour in the Capitol this year — tuition. But compared with their Senate colleagues, the discussion was decidedly kinder and gentler.

House members expressed worry over the rising cost of tuition, and they indicated a willingness to try to halt that trend. But they were more vocal about lawmakers’ role in the rising costs. And they were less confrontational with the university officials called to discuss the issue during a House Higher Education Committee hearing.

“There are people in this building who say that tuition and fees are out of control and the culprit is out-of-control spending by universities,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “That is the accusation. I don’t agree with it, but that is the accusation that is out there.”

Tuition was thrust into the spotlight in recent months after most public universities in the state moved to raise their prices. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick included the issue on the list of items he wanted to study before the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature. And in a forceful news conference last month, Patrick chastised the universities for raising tuition by 147 percent since 2002 and urged the Legislature to consider taking back control of how Texas colleges set their prices.

“What we are asking is for our universities to be as fiscally responsible as we ask ourselves to be and for our agencies to be,” Patrick said during a news conference before a Senate hearing on the issue last month. “They are not an exception.”

READ MORELt. Gov. Dan Patrick Slams Universities for Tuition Increases

House Speaker Joe Straus has also included college affordability on his list of items he wants lawmakers to study this year, though the idea of re-regulating tuition isn’t specifically mentioned on his charges.

On Tuesday, the House Higher Education Committee took up that work, but there were no news conferences or excoriations of schools. Instead, the tone was set right away when committee Vice Chairwoman Donna Howard, D-Austin, interrupted opening comments from a member of the Legislative Budget Board, who was noting that the Legislature increased funding for universities by 9.3 percent in 2015.

Critics of the universities have cited that increase in recent months while expressing frustration about the schools raising tuition. But Howard noted that most of that money went to cover increased enrollment, so she said it didn’t represent that much of a per-student boost.

txtbqt“The actual increase in amount we provided the higher education institutions was only 3 percent,” she said.

Plus, she noted that the state would have needed to increase funding by 17 percent to bring the schools back up to the per-student funding levels before major cuts in 2011.

Committee members also cited the relative affordability of community colleges in Texas. And they said that while the cost of the state’s top public universities, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, is growing, it’s still relatively low.

“Our two flagships — A&M and UT-Austin — are frequently listed among the best educational bargains in the country,” said Raymund Paredes, chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The universities also insisted that they are working to keep costs down. Decisions to raise tuition are not made lightly, officials said, and they are often the result of the declining share of state funding. University of Houston System Chancellor Renu Khator told lawmakers that in 2000, the Legislature gave universities $54.44 per semester credit hour each student took. This year, after adjusting for inflation, that amount has dropped to $39.38, she said.

“We are pedaling as fast as we can,” said Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall.

While lawmakers acknowledged the difficult situation, they also stressed that something needs to be done to keep college affordable. House Higher Education Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said he often hears from people in his suburban Houston district about the difficulty of paying for college. And the next session will include difficult challenges in terms of K-12 school funding, Medicaid and perhaps less money to spend due to low oil prices, he said. Budget writers often look to higher education appropriations as a place where they can save money, he said.

In other words, there will be a lot of pressure on universities when lawmakers meet in 2017, he said.

“At the end of the day, whether it is politics as usual or what, there is a very strong feeling out there that the cost of higher education is spiraling out of control and out of affordability,” he said.

At the meeting, Zerwas highlighted one possible solution. In 2015, Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed a bill that would have banned universities from raising tuition unless they met a series of performance metrics. Those metrics would have been set by the Higher Education Coordinating Board, but would have involved graduation rates, success of first-generation college students and the number of courses taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty.

The bill passed the Senate but died in the House. Seliger has said he plans to file it again in 2017. On Tuesday, Zerwas endorsed the idea.

“It is an area that I think we will take a closer look at in this coming session,” he said. “I don’t think we really gave that the time and effort we should have” in 2015.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, the Texas State University System and Raymund Paredes have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

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