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Amid isolated funding bump, rising tuition is on legislators

UH Provost Paula Myrick Short on a panel at The Texas Tribune on Higher Ed Funding and Spending. | Courtesy of Stephen Spillman for the Texas Tribune

College tuition and fees have skyrocketed across the country in the past decade, swelling to three times the rate of inflation.

If you think college costs are rising because of administration greed or a better quality education, I hate to break it to you, but the answer is not that simple.

Tuition is rising due to state disinvestment in higher education. College costs rise due to policies created at the state Capitol by the people we elect to represent our interests.

Fall 2003 was a turning point. That semester, the University of Houston charged full-time students taking 15 credit hours a grand total of $2,266 in tuition and fees. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $3,014 today. If you enrolled in 15 hours this fall, your bill was twice that at $6,041.

Fall 2003 was the last semester that the state capped tuition. That’s right — Texas regulated something.

Previously, the state government capped tuition at public universities across the state. Now they can charge as much as they deem necessary.

The reason institutions like UH are called “public” is because they are directly funded by state taxes. Private institutions don’t receive public funding, so they often make up for it by charging students a lot more.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature realized it couldn’t cut funding for public universities and continue to cap their tuition. Now, charging students more is one of the only ways universities can make up for a lack of state funding.

What students pay at Texas universities has more than doubled since 2003, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. We have years of state disinvestment to thank.

State support for UH has dropped by about a third since 1987, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. State disinvestment shifts the burden of paying for college from the state to students and their families.

In UH’s current fiscal year budget, student tuition and fees fund twice as much as state appropriations. The state pays 20 percent, or $326.5 million, while students pay 42 percent, or a whopping $679.7 million.

Elected state legislators are to blame for increasing tuition — not university officials.

The pressure is on schools to painfully cut every corner of their already skeletal budgets. UH academic departments had to cut 2.5 percent from their budgets this year, while non-academic units had to cut 3.5 percent. According to a Texas Tribune report, that’s the highest internal budget cut of all the major university systems in Texas.

These cuts came even after UH received a 3 percent increase in general state funding for the next two years compared to the previous two years. This small gain does little against decades of losses.  

Paula Myrick Short, UH vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, recently spoke on a “Higher Ed Funding and Spending” panel at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Sept. 23.

“We were extremely pleased and grateful to the Legislature,” she said about this year’s increase. “We always welcome more funding.”

Short said UH has moved to performance-based funding that relies on factors like graduation rates instead of classroom contact hours.  

This model, Short said, is “making the University focused on student success… Our students are our single priority.”

Investing in higher education is an investment in the state’s future. For every dollar of taxes invested in higher education, Texas gets $6.40 back.

Studies show a more educated population means a stronger economy and increased tax revenue. It also means people are more able to support themselves financially, and with less poverty, the state spends less on law enforcement and social services.  

Cost determines whether students can afford college, how much debt they’re saddled with and how much they need to work while in school.

Increased tuition and fees are barriers for students, especially for low-income, underrepresented or first-generation college students.

If the state is serious about ensuring a strong Texas economy with opportunities for all, it should increase funding to public universities.

Columnist Jackie Wostrel is a public relations sophomore and can be reached at [email protected].

1 Comment

  • Nice article. The state has been choking higher education for years as the author states. Time for Texas to invest in higher education and ensure that we are on par with the rest of the country.

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