Texas budget plan would cut $1.7 billion from higher education

Future college students won't be able to tap into state financial aid under spending cuts proposed in a $156.4 billion plan that also would shutter four community colleges.

Higher education would lose about $1.7 billion in 2012-13, according to a plan drafted by the state's Legislative Budget Board. The $21.1 billion budgeted for higher education represents a 7.6 percent drop from the $22.7 billion budgeted in 2010-11.

Colleges including the University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University would see funding cuts. Formula funding, one mechanism by which universities get state dollars based partly on enrollment, would be reduced by $411.9 million.

"The proposed cuts in this bill are substantial," said UT-Arlington President James Spaniolo. "We had an expectation that the base bill from the House would represent a worst-case scenario."

Spaniolo said students, faculty and staff would all feel the cuts. UT-Arlington, which had $84.2 million in 2011 for its general revenue fund, would see it drop to $78.6 million in 2012.

"These proposed cuts are severe and significant, but this also represents an opportunity to talk about their impact, to look for alternatives and to make sure that we are able to continue to serve a growing number of students who are enrolling and graduating and who are receiving financial aid," Spaniolo said.

Funding would be eliminated entirely for Ranger College, located west of Weatherford.

Ranger College President Bill Campion said "defunding" his community college appeared to be an "attention getter." He said the school, with enrollment of 1,613, has been around for 90 years and predicted it will be here for 90 more. "This area out here is primarily a rural, sparsely populated area," Campion said. "We need educational opportunities here as much as anywhere else." Besides Ranger, Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, Frank Phillips College in Borger and Odessa College were put on the chopping block.

Education officials, gauging the impact of the cuts Wednesday, said they will have to maximize dollars without affecting academic programs. Erma Johnson Hadley, chancellor at Tarrant County College, said the college district is considering increased class sizes to keep costs down. Cutting instructors is not on the table because enrollment keeps growing.

"It's kind of an oxymoron," she said. "I don't know how you do that."

But some cuts will affect student success.

"It will be a challenge, no doubt about it," said Arturo Alonzo, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The state aims to make deep cuts -- $675.8 million in general revenue funds -- by cutting financial aid to future college students and eliminating some programs. Under the proposal, next year's freshmen won't be able to get financial aid awards for public and private colleges through five state programs.

Among the recommended cuts, Alonzo said, are developmental education dollars -- $4.7 million available in the 2010-11 budget cycle to help struggling students become college ready.

The Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Program would be eliminated, Alonzo said. That program encourages teachers to work in underserved regions of Texas or in critical need subject areas such as math and science. In return, teachers could eliminate their student loan debt.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

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