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HIGHER COST OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Posted by Texas Education on July 10, 2008

Complaints rising right along with tuition, fees
Legislators feel the heat, wonder if deregulation needs new look
I’ve not mention higher ed here, yet. But, ladies and gentlemen, here it is in all it’s glory. This has been an ever increasing sore thumb, if you will, ever since the deregulation.
Gov. Rick Perry still supports public college tuition deregulation and thinks Texas universities are ‘still a bargain,’ according to a spokeswoman.

University of Houston leaders had barely finished voting on their latest tuition increase at a recent meeting when they heard from one unhappy Cougar.

Yes, I guess college tution is a “bargin” for those who make oggles of money. But, not for us poor (and I do mean poor) working stiffs. Oggles, where the heck did that come from? Beats me. Ok, ya gots to have a sense of humor to deal with this stuff on a daily basis. I think that’s what’s wrong with those in office now, no dad gum sense of humor!!

‘Insensitive,’ state Sen. John Whitmire fumed. ‘I am terribly disappointed in my alma mater.’

And so began the latest uproar over the increasing cost of a college education in Texas, a topic gaining traction as an issue for upcoming state political campaigns and the next legislative session.

Tuition at Texas universities rose 58 percent between 2003, when schools were first allowed to set their own rates, and 2007. Student fees have gone up, too.

Driving them away

Legislators agreed to let university regents — appointed by the governor — set tuition in 2003 when they faced a $10 billion budget shortfall. In exchange, general revenue appropriations for higher education were cut by 2 percent, or $181 million. The idea was that university regents could raise tuition to make up the difference.

They did. State spending on higher education also has grown in the past five years, although not enough to keep pace with inflation or enrollment, so per-student spending has dropped.

Legislators expect a surplus of $10 billion or more when they meet in January. How much, if any, will go to higher education remains to be seen.

‘It is a very timely subject, simply because so many persons are impacted,’ said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chair of the Senate subcommittee on higher education. ‘We have more students than ever continuing their education.’

But that touches on a key issue. As Texas pushes students to attend college, rising tuition threatens to drive them away.

‘Be careful what you ask for’

University leaders say they need more state money and the continued ability to set tuition. Ellis, for one, said deregulation may have created a Catch-22.

‘I tell my friends in higher ed, be careful what you ask for,’ he said. ‘They get criticized for raising tuition, and it makes it more difficult to get state funding. (Legislators) say, you have the ability to raise tuition.’

Ellis, like Whitmire, also a Democrat from Houston, voted against deregulation in 2003 and still opposes it. Zaffirini said she reluctantly voted for it; she hasn’t taken a public stand this time.

No decision will be made in a vacuum.

‘There’s no question that the legislators feel burnt,’ blamed by voters for higher tuition but unable to do anything about it, said Bob Stein, a political scientist at Rice University.

But he predicts that the state is unlikely to retake control of tuition.

This again, is like letting the genie out of the bottle, I keep hearing the phrase echoing time and time again, you can’t put it back.

Ellis said he may tackle the issue through an amendment to a bill with bipartisan support, rather than taking it on directly.

If that doesn’t work, he predicts ‘an attempt to do some cosmetic things that will quell some of the political heat that people are taking. I think we’re going to have a lot of angry students, as well as working-class parents.’

Get the full story from JEANNIE KEVER Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

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