GUEST COMMENTARY by PATRICK M. ROSE
As our nation tackles this economic crisis, investing in the excellence and affordability of higher education will position Texas as a global, financial force. For our prosperity, we must make a college degree affordable for middle class families. Tuition deregulation has proven to be too costly for Texans to bear, but we cannot afford to starve our colleges and universities just as they emerge as world-class institutions.
Businesses relocate to Texas because of our natural resources, infrastructure, tort system, low taxes and pro-business climate. In 2004, Site Selection Magazine named Texas the top state in the nation in which to conduct business. If you ask our business leaders today what we are lacking, however, the resounding answer is the ability to secure and sustain a globally competitive workforce.
To meet this challenge Texas must make dramatic gains in the number of graduates– we currently rank 50th in the nation in adults with a high school diploma and 40th in adults with a four-year college degree or higher. This is simply unacceptable, and our current business climate is unsustainable if Texas does not make marked progress in this regard.
Our state has set a goal of increasing the number of degrees and certificates obtained by Texans annually by fifty percent to 210,000 in 2015. Should we succeed, the increased annual earning potential of our state’s workforce is a remarkable $1.3 billion. Meeting this goal will require increased state investment in higher education.
Last year, Forbes Magazine ranked Texas in its top five “best states to do business” and placed five of our cities in its “top 20 best cities for jobs in 2008.” Our state is strong domestically, but competition will increasingly be found beyond our country’s borders. Only if the Legislature invests in higher education will we be positioned to lead globally in the coming decades.
Since 2003, when the Legislature gave universities the authority to set the cost of a college education by deregulating tuition, state appropriations to our institutions, when adjusted for inflation and controlled by course hour, have either remained flat or declined. Tuition, on the other hand, has continuously climbed, pricing many middle class families out of our public colleges and universities. At many institutions, including UT Austin and Texas A&M, state appropriations are now less than revenue from tuition and fees. Students should not be burdened with student loans that equal a home mortgage when they graduate from college.
This session, I have filed House Bill 2637 in an effort to re-regulate tuition in a way that ensures that the value of a degree–and the success of our institutions–is not diminished. It statutorily links state appropriations and tuition increases, prohibiting tuition increases that result in the sum of state appropriations and tuition revenue increasing more than six percent from one academic year to the next. This achieves two primary goals: it ensures that our institutions of higher education have the funding they need to be the best, and it puts the burden back on the Legislature to fund that need.
Our universities have been able to strive for excellence–which is critical for the future economic development of our state–but this enhanced excellence has been paid for by Texas students and families who desperately need relief. It is time that we stop pitting the goals of excellence and affordability in higher education against one another. Maintaining the status quo with regard to complete tuition flexibility is unacceptable, but so is imposing a tuition freeze divorced from any consideration of state appropriations. We must formally recognize that these two discussions – tuition and state appropriations – are directly linked.
Texans need relief from the skyrocketing cost of a college education, but we place the economic future of our state at risk if we freeze tuition without ensuring that we adequately fund our institutions. Regulating tuition by capping the rate of increase and putting the burden back on the Legislature is the responsible way to fund higher education and grow the Texas economy for generations to come.
PATRICK M. ROSE, a Dripping Springs Democrat, represents Hays, Caldwell and Blanco counties in the Texas Legislature.Email | Print