May 21, 2014

Texas must find better ways than tuition increases to fund higher education

Rising costs are putting college out of reach for many students.

Citing his desire to keep a college degree within reach of more students and to “combat the epidemic” of student debt, Gov. Rick Perry called on the University of Texas System board of regents last week to reject tuition increases for in-state students at all academic institutions in the system.

On Tuesday the board obliged by voting to keep tuition stable for the coming year.

Plans will be put on hold at the University of Texas at Austin, which had proposed raising tuition by 2.13 percent to 3 percent, and the University of Texas at Arlington, whose new president had discussed a 3 percent increase.

During nine years after 2003, when the Legislature responded to cuts in higher education by allowing campuses to set their own tuition, higher ed charges to students rose 55 percent in Texas, according to a study by The Dallas Morning News.

These steep increases have placed a hardship on many students seeking a college education. For some, it’s an insurmountable wall.

And too many who get a degree will leave college with high debts — an average of $35,200, CNN reported.

So the governor is wise to focus on holding down tuition and encouraging the UT System to find other ways to meet its funding needs.

For UT Austin, regents will use an allocation from the Permanent University Fund to make up for the loss of the proposed tuition increase.

But that’s a short-term fix — for just one institution.

Although the last session of the Legislature increased the budget for higher education, which had been cut the session before, state funding has not kept up with the growing costs incurred by public institutions in which about 91 percent of the state’s 1.4 million college students are enrolled.

While cost cutting must be a serious consideration at all of the higher ed facilities, budget reductions alone will not be enough to meet the needs of colleges and universities that are charged with preparing students in this fast-growing state for a more demanding workplace.

The Legislature must be more committed to meeting this challenge head-on, searching out ways to provide funds to help keep these institutions strong without over-burdening students with frequent tuition increases.

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