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Sunday, May 26, 2019

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UHS Day at the Capitol focuses on tuition revenue bonds, ‘humanizing’ UH


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Roughly 400 students, staff, faculty and alumni from the UH System participated in UHS Day at the Capitol on Feb. 23 in Austin. | Cara Smith/The Cougar

AUSTIN — Surrounded by 400 students from the University of Houston System at the foot of the state capitol building, President and Chancellor Renu Khator was still beaming when the cameras stopped flashing. At the barbecue lunch earlier, Khator had spent much of her meal talking with the students, faculty, staff and alumni who came out to UHS Day at the Capitol in Austin.

Mostly, she gave thanks. But she also told students to do whatever it took to get UH more state funding in this legislative session.

“When it comes to funding, it doesn’t matter if you have to get down on your knees, cry a little — just do it. Get the funding, because that is what we are here for,” Khator said. “We are not here asking for what we don’t deserve. We are here to make a case.”

UHS Day at the Capitol invited students from the UH System to lobby for increased legislative funding for UH and its satellite schools.

In recent legislative sessions, UH’s funding has been cut dramatically by the state. In 2012, 22 percent of the University’s budget was made up of state funding, a 33 percent cut from the previous session.

Chiefly, the University is advocating for tuition revenue bonds that would fund the residential and academic facilities desperately needed to keep up with UH’s rapidly growing student body. But Khator said the name “doesn’t reflect what it truly is,” and stressed that students don’t pay a portion of the bond.

When using tuition revenue bonds, the University would use revenue from tuition to fund facility construction, but the state would reimburse the University for the costs of the construction. It’s comparable to a student paying their phone bill once a month with their own money, but having their parents guaranteeing to pay the student back after the student makes the payment.

“The importance is that without (funding for tuition revenue bonds), we cannot take any more students. We just have no room,” Khator said.

Khator is also seeking to re-authorize the University’s funding from the state’s Higher Education Fund for the next decade and is asking for a 50 percent increase (from $262.5 million to $393.75 million). This is a “percentage consistent with increases for the past two 10-year allocation cycles,” according to the University’s official legislative agenda.

UH is seeking $4 million to fund the new Hobby School for Public Affairs and nearly $9 million in funding for UH’s pharmacy school to help the program operate on an “even playing field.”

Dr. Richard Walker, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Services said that one of the University’s “biggest challenges” was getting equal funding for UH’s pharmacy school, which isn’t attached to a health science program and therefore receives less funding from the state.

Among other things, the UHS Day at the Capitol humanizes the University, said Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Kowalka. Administrators and alumni repeated throughout the day how critical it is to put a face to the issues, and to show how the legislative agenda has real, personal effects on students.

“I think (our goal at the Capitol) is to plant the flag and wave the banner, showing how the University of Houston is not the same university it was 10, 15, 20 years ago,” Kowalka said. “The staff and the representatives really enjoy learning the stories of how the legislative agenda will personally affect the students that are present.”

The Texas legislative session began on Jan. 13 and will conclude on June 1.

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