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Saturday, May 27, 2017

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Proposed Senate budget could mean bad news for UHCL, Texas universities


The Senate’s current budget proposal cuts funding for public university “special items” from $1.1 billion to $300 million. | File photo/The Cougar

Though it must be reconciled with the Texas House of Representatives’ budget, many Texas public universities stand to lose critical funding if the Senate’s proposed budget is passed, including the University of Houston Clear Lake and Texas Southern University.

The proposal follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s summer recommendation that all state departments, including public universities, take a 4 percent budgetary decrease.

The current proposal cuts more than $700 million from special items funding, generally used for university expenditures such as faculty salaries and academic programs not covered under other state distributed funds, according to the Houston Chronicle. The proposed allocation for special items is $300 million. Last session, $1.1 billion was available in special items.

Among programs funded under this bracket are UHCL’s efforts to increase enrollment and services for freshman and sophomore students. Texas Southern University stands to lose nearly $15 million if the Senate budget passes.

“If the item wasn’t funded, we would either have to severely limit the admission of freshmen or go back to being an upper-level university,” said UHCL President William Staples during the Feb. 13 meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The program began in 2014, when the university first began accepting lower-level undergraduate students, according to UHCL’s website. The Houston Chronicle reported that Texas lawmakers later allocated $6.5 million for the program, citing the project’s importance to students southeast of UH Main Campus.

“I don’t believe higher education can absorb the loss of this much funding for these projects without some significant consequences,” said Sen. John Whitmire, according to the Houston Chronicle.

While the Senate budget eliminates the funding for the program entirely, the budget proposal from the House of Representatives leaves most of the special item requests intact, allocating nearly $1 billion to the universities. Under this budget, UHCL would receive $5.85 million over two years, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Energy research at the University of Houston and TSU’s pharmacy school would receive up to 90 percent of their requests under the House budget, the Houston Chronicle reported. And ultimately, The Texas Tribune reported, the House and Senate budgets must be reconciled in order for the state’s higher education budget to be finalized and put into effect.

The Senate’s chief budget writer, Sen. Jane Nelson, said that there’s hope more money will be found for higher education, but a review of special item spending is in order as costs continue to grow, according to The Texas Tribune.

“This session, we have to prioritize,” Nelson said. “And I think we have to prioritize students.”

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  • Sonya in TX

    What a shame that Texas simply doesn’t put a priority on higher education.

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