Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Texas Senate begins to act on Tuition

"Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord."
Colossians 3:20

Yesterday, Lt. Governor Patrick and Sen. Seliger held a press conference to discuss recent tuition hikes at Texas' public universities.  The press conference was followed by a hearing in the Higher education committee.  The combined press conference and hearing began to reveal details of the tuition related actions the Lt. Governor assured us were coming in our interview last fall.

The biggest takeaway is that tuition related bills will be priority legislation for the Texas Senate next session.  Lt. Governor Patrick assured the press conference that something addressing tuition "will have a low bill number."  The precise details are still in flux.  A redux of Sen. Schwertner's tuition bill might be the approach the Senate takes, but it also might not.  Nonetheless, Lt. Governor Patrick warned the universities: "it's safe to say, there's a new crew [in the Texas Senate]."

Lt. Governor Patrick spoke very favorably about ending tuition "set asides."  These set asides are a resdistributive tax through which one group of students subsidizes the tuition of a more politically favored group.  Senator Seliger bemoaned one university system that increased it's budget 5-fold in just nine years.  The Lt. Governor also voiced his displeasure at the obscene salary increases we've seen recently at public universities (UT, of course, is the worst offender, but none of the Universities' noses are clean here).  Most interestingly, the Lt. Governor assured that the next round of regental confirmation will have lots of questions about costs and tuition.  In what can only be seen as a de facto endorsement of Wallace Hall, Lt. Governor Patrick said "[The Board of Regents'] job is not to be a rubber stamp for our higher education."  Time will tell how much they listen.

Higher Education coordinating board chairman Raymund Paredes led of the hearing.  He made a lot of bureaucratic excuses about tuition in Texas being less out of control than other states.   This reminded us of Michael Quinn Sullivan's old quip about Texas being "the least drunk state at the bar."  Another shocking aspect to which Paredes testified is the financial illiteracy of students taking out loans.  There are, literally, students in Texas who don't know they've taken out loans until the repayment calls start.  Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp and Tech chancellor Bob Duncan testified next.  They made the difficult to believe claim that administrative costs were less than 7% of each system's respective budget.

Bill McRaven testified next.  Unfortunately, his testimony occurred at the same time as the Franklin Graham event, so we didn't witness it.  Apparently, the Senators tore him a new one over the tuition hike and the Houston expansion.

One interesting political note: to his credit, it appears (Higher Ed Chairman) Seliger is on board with the Senate's efforts.  This is notable, considering that Seliger has historically been one of the bad guys on Higher Ed.  We don't know if Seliger's motivation is genuine or political, but either way it's a very positive sign moving forward (and, we suspect, a tremendous credit to the Lt. Governor).

Bottom Line: For the Universities to raise tuition over the objections of the Texas Senate was the equivalent of poking a sleeping bear with a stick.  Yesterday, the bear began clearing the cobwebs.  This is going to be a really fun subplot next session.


Lt. Governor Patrick's statement:
AUSTIN - Today, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Kel Seliger held a press conference to address data collected related to skyrocketing university tuition, fee rates and student debt.

"The issue of rising tuition and rising student debt is of great public concern," said Patrick. "It is the responsibility of the legislature to respond and work with our higher education institutions to lower costs. After passing a budget that increased funding for higher education by 8.9 percent last session, universities quickly raised their tuition rates. Since 2002, university tuition and fees increased 147 percent while the median household income and consumer price index have only increased 32 percent. Costs have simply outpaced what families are earning and able to pay.

"Next session the Senate will look closely at a number of cost reforms, including performance-based funding, which brings increased accountability and affordability back by requiring education institutions to meet high performance targets before increasing tuition above inflation.

"The issue of rising tuition rates and student debt must end and I will do what it takes to bring relief to hard-working families across Texas," concluded Patrick.

To see the press conference on tuition rates and student debt from this morning click here:

TPPF's statement:

TPPF Statement on Rising Tuition and
Student Debt for Higher Education

AUSTIN – Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Higher Education Policy Analyst Trevor McGuire issued the following statement on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s and Texas State Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger’s announcement to address high tuition costs and student debt:

            “The cost of tuition in Texas has increased 149 percent since tuition deregulation, almost five times the growth of the median income in Texas over the same period,” said McGuire. “We support the Lt. Governor and Senator Seliger’s plan for addressing the issues of tuition and student debt by considering performance-based funding, the elimination of tuition set-asides, and reining-in excessive administrative costs during the next legislative session. The Legislature should address these three issues, which primarily affect four-year institutions, while also providing sufficient attention and resources to Texas’s community and technical colleges – where both student debt and tuition are much lower than at four-year institutions.

            “While the most effective solutions to rising tuition costs and student debt will be those developed collaboratively between the Legislature, colleges and universities, and the Coordinating Board, we are encouraged by the Lt. Governor’s promise to hold university regents more accountable if suitable progress cannot be made toward making Texas higher education more affordable.”

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