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Sunday, September 24, 2017

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Legislators propose bills addressing tuition increases


In the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature, two bills have been proposed to limit public university tuition increases. | The Cougar Archives

Thursday’s meeting of the Texas Legislature saw two higher education bills proposed, both of which aim to address climbing tuition costs at Texas public universities, according to an article from The Texas Tribune.

Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and Sen. Kel Seliger, backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, filed the bills which would freeze university tuition for four years and end a state mandated tuition assistance program. The program requires public universities to set aside a percentage of each student’s tuition in order to provide financial assistance to low-income students.

“The focus should be on how to make higher education more accessible and affordable, rather than how to get the state, and students, to pay more,” Seliger said in a statement, according to The Texas Tribune.

Patrick has said that the responsibility of funding these scholarships should fall to the state, not other students.

“Making college more affordable for all Texans continues to be one of my top priorities this legislative session,” Patrick said, according to The Texas Tribune. “I commend Sen. Seliger for filing these two bills that will help bring economic relief to students who pursue higher education.”

Patrick additionally referred to the percentage of tuition set aside for the program as a hidden tax, making higher education more expensive for other students in the state.

A large opponent of tuition increases, Patrick has gone after universities for raising costs in the past few years. According to The Texas Tribune’s coverage of an April rally, Patrick reprimanded public universities and suggested the Senate would work to place a limit on tuition increases at its next session.

In his presentation, Patrick detailed how tuition costs at Texas public universities have grown 147 percent since 2002, just one year before universities won the right to set their own tuition. This nearly quadruples the growth of the state’s average household income in that time.

However, according to an analysis by Dallas Morning News, tuition increases tend to coincide with cuts to state spending on public universities. The article also states that tuition increases are much more rapid when lawmakers, and not the universities, are in charge.

According to Dallas Morning News, the data regarding universities raising tuition rates is incomplete, due to the fact that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board didn’t track tuition prior to the universities gaining control.

Senate Bill 543, a third bill filed by Sen. Seliger, would require universities to meet certain performance standards before being allowed to raise tuition. According to The Texas Tribune, these metrics would be decided by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and would include graduation rates, degrees awarded to at-risk students and the institution’s administrative costs.

“Boards of regents are best positioned to make decisions about tuition,” said Deputy Chancellor for the University of Texas System David E. Daniel, to Dallas Morning News. “They have a deep understanding of each institution’s unique circumstances.”

According to The Texas Tribune, the bills are well positioned to pass the Senate, but may face difficulty in the House.

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