Editorials

Texas officials cry foul on tuition increases

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Students at The University of Texas at Austin can expect to pay $304 more next year, while those at Texas A&M University and the University of Houston pay $208 more.
Students at The University of Texas at Austin can expect to pay $304 more next year, while those at Texas A&M University and the University of Houston pay $208 more. AP

It’s absolutely the right goal — and political figures are giving it a wide airing lately — that a good university education should be affordable for everyone.

That goal seems to get more out of reach every year. In Texas, the state’s largest public universities have announced another round of tuition and fee increases, most of them set to take effect this fall.

And that has spurred another round of protests from some of the state’s top political figures, blaming university presidents for needless spending.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, sent a letter to university presidents on March 3 saying the latest increases show that “our state universities have lost sight of their primary mission to provide a high quality education at an affordable cost to Texas families.”

Oh, if good universities only grew on trees.

The blame game is predictable. The solutions are not.

Solutions won’t come from out of the heated statements that will be made between now and when the Legislature convenes in January.

It’s probably too late for state officials to influence what students will have to pay this fall.

The really sober discussions — who knows yet whether actual solutions will be found — will come when House and Senate budget writers get down to deciding how much money they’ll give public colleges and universities to fend off future increases.

State officials gave up control over tuition and fees at public universities back in 2003. They faced a budget crunch, couldn’t afford to use tax funds to help universities meet their own rising costs and essentially gave the schools free rein to decide how much to charge students.

Some lawmakers want to take back control, or at least put a cap on future increases in student costs. They’ll starve the universities into submission, substituting their judgment for that of university administrators in deciding what it takes to create a good university.

For their part, university administrators will have to show that they have spent wisely, that necessary spending can be met only with higher tuition and fees or more state funds.

Some state officials say state funding has kept up, including more allocations in the latest legislative session.

Yet Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes told the Houston Chronicle that college costs have gone up 65 percent since 2003 after adjusting for inflation, while inflation-adjusted state funding has gone down 27 percent

Sober discussions will indeed be necessary when the Legislature convenes.

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