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Gov. Rick Perry, shown here at the Texas Tribune Festival last weekend, is expected to call on public universities to lock in the price of a four-year degree when students enroll as freshmen. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by SPENCER SELVIDGE

Updated 7:05 a.m. OCT 2:

Gov. Rick Perry laid out his higher education initiatives at a press conference in Dallas on Monday. As expected, he emphasized his desire to see universities keep tuition at a set price for a student’s first four years of college, as well as calling for institutions to tell students how much their degrees will cost if they graduate in four, five or six years.

“Implementing these measures will meet the growing demand for higher education in a way that provides encouragement for students to complete their degree in a timely fashion and with financial certainty,” Perry said.

The governor renewed a challenge he issued in his 2011 State of the State address for universities to design bachelor’s degrees that only cost $10,000. Since his initial proposal, nine schools have implemented or announced various approaches to the $10,000 degree.
Perry also called on the legislature to tie 10 percent of state funding for universities to outcomes such as graduation totals in an effort to incentivize them to bring those numbers up.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, joined Perry at the press conference. In a conversation with The Texas Tribune, he said that it was important for policymakers not to forget about quality as they tackled the issue of affordability. “It’s a really expensive education if you pay money and don’t get educated,” he said.



Sources close to Gov. Rick Perry‘s office say that he will propose requiring the state’s public universities to inform incoming students upfront about how much their degree will cost them if it takes them four years to graduate — and how much more they will spend if it takes five or six years to graduate.

The plan is part of Perry’s recent push to make college tuition more predictable for students and to encourage them to graduate on time. In late September, at The Texas Tribune Festival, he called for institutions to lock in students’ tuition at a fixed price for the first four years of their higher education.

He is expected to discuss both proposals today at a press conference in the library of Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. He will also encourage the Legislature to tie some state funding for universities, which is currently based on enrollment, to outputs such as graduation numbers in order to help incentivize institutional productivity, sources familiar with the plans for the event told the Tribune.

These are not necessarily new ideas. Outcomes-based funding has been pushed in previous legislative sessions with limited success, though it is widely believed to have momentum heading into the 2013 session. The University of Texas at Dallas has had locked-in tuition rates for its students for the last five years.

UT-Dallas President David Daniel recently told the Tribune that while locking in tuition helps students plan, it is not necessarily a cost-saver. To account for future inflation, schools that institute such a scheme generally have slightly higher prices for freshmen relative to other schools. UT-Dallas has the highest tuition of any public university in the state, though Daniel said that is mostly because of its heavy focus on science and engineering programs, which tend to be more expensive.

The University of Texas at El Paso offers an optional tuition plan that guarantees one price for four years, but according to UTEP President Diana Natalicio, it has not been popular among the students there. She noted that the institution has a higher population of low-income students who work their way through school, often taking more than four years to graduate, and prefer to pay as they go.

If Perry’s financial disclosure proposal sounds familiar, it may be because there is a similar plank in University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa‘s framework for advancing excellence at UT institutions. All universities within the UT System are scheduled to begin distributing “shopping sheets” to students and their families with information on college costs and financial aid options in fall 2013.

If Perry gets his way, other institutions will likely follow suit.

REEVE HAMILTON reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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4 thoughts on “Updated: Perry to call for upfront price tags at universities

  1. Something I rarely say, yes Perry. Big ed is the next bubble. State universities are charging prices which cannot be justified by the earnings growth they drive for those who attend. Students are not rational consumers because they value education as an end unto itself rather than a means to an end, and they are freely borrowing federal dollars which they may or may not pay back. Some transparency in pricing would be one step.

  2. I’m not sure I fully agree with you Skeptical. I recently edited a report arguing that a four-year college degree has effectively become the new high school diploma: without one, your future will involve a series of low-paying jobs with few if any benefits and little upward mobility. In other words, if you don’t earn a college degree, you’re pretty much fated to never reach the middle class.

    This is the result of our becoming a combined knowledge and service economy. If you’re part of the former, you have a better chance of doing well. If you’re part of the latter, then it will be much, much harder. Trouble is, knowledge economy jobs don’t go to folks with just a high school education.

    This is a drastic change from a few decades ago, when a high school diploma was an acceptable credential for acquiring the skilled labor jobs that employed millions of Americans. Those jobs have all but disappeared.

    So while it’s tempting to paint many college students as people who are in school simply to go to school, I believe the vast majority are there to get a degree that will lead to a career.

    A $10K degree sounds enticing, but I’d wonder what corners will need to be cut to reach that price point. And a decade from now, will prospective employers and grad schools be able to distinguish a $10K degree from all the rest? You know they’ll want to.

  3. Tarl, I’ve seen such reports, but they tend to mistake correlation for causation. For decades, the best and brightest went to college, so their incomes reflected their native advantage. Now, we push everyone to go. The marginal qualifier who may bounce through ACC to Texas State and inch out a liberal arts degree is maybe $50k in debt. The career he was sold on is not there for him, and he has lost the economic benefit of 5ish of his most productive working years. And what does he have to show? And that is if he makes it. The prospects are much worse for the long-time student who loses hope along the way. Better to not overvalue the degree emotionally so you can make a rational decision about your economic best interests. And better to instill that developing a skill and making a job for yourself is just as worthwhile a pursuit for some. Learning is very important, but a university campus is merely one place this can occur. As towers of inefficiency, they are due for some reforms.

  4. I think this is where a two-year community college degree comes in. It costs less than a four-year bachelor’s and, assuming the program is a sound one, produces a graduate with marketable skills and required credentials.

    When I was in high school — way back in the ’70s — a student who wasn’t headed to college could take vocational courses such as metalworking, carpentry or auto shop. I took a few of those “Industrial Arts” classes myself.

    For the most part, all that is over. High schools have effectively ceded that role to community colleges and private technical schools, which is a shame because it shifts costs onto students.

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