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April 10, 2007 (512) 463-0300

COMMITTEE CONSIDERS LEGISLATION RESTRICTING TUITION INCREASES, TOP TEN PERCENT MODIFICATION

(AUSTIN) -- The Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education considered several bills Tuesday dealing with two of the most controversial issues in higher education: tuition increases and the Top Ten Percent rule. Since the Legislature deregulated tuition in 2003, tuition at Texas public universities has increased 39 percent. The committee heard a number of bills intended at capping or halting tuition increases entirely.

Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen proposed a bill, Senate Bill 85, which would place a three year moratorium on tuition increases at public universities, and then cap tuition increases at 5 percent following the moratorium. Hinojosa believes that lawmakers, not boards of regents, should set tuition rates. "I don't think we should allow universities to set their own tuition. There is a conflict of interest inherent in the institution," he said. "They will always want more money, they will always need more money, there is no doubt about that, but it ought to be the responsibility of the Legislature."

Other Senators offered different plans to rein in the rising cost of college in Texas. Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro offered a bill that would lock tuition and fees at the rate a student paid during his or her freshman year of college. Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston proposed a bill that would commission a study of tuition deregulation, and eliminate it by 2010, unless the Legislature votes to continue the practice.

The Committee also considered the state's policy of granting automatic admission to state colleges and universities for students that graduate in the top ten percent of their high school class, known as the Top Ten Percent rule. Proponents of this policy say it increases diversity at state colleges, and has demonstrably done so since its inception in 1996. Critics point out that at the state's top two universities, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin, have a disproportionately high percentage of students admitted under just one criterion. In this year's incoming freshmen class at UT, for example, 71 percent of students were admitted under the top ten percent rule. UT President William Powers said Tuesday if something isn't done to give universities more discretion over admission, UT is looking at a "train wreck", where every student is admitted based on class standing alone.

Senator Florence Shapiro proposed a bill, SB 101, capping Top Ten Percent admissions at 50 percent of the incoming class. She says that there is much more to consider than class rank when considering an applicant. "I believe that simply gauging the GPA or class rank is a problem," she said. "Students have talents and experiences that bring diversity to every institution and to every classroom, and it is those students that are being shut out of the chance to excel at these flagship institutions."

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee considered legislation Tuesday aimed at another controversial issue, the human papillomavirus vaccine. This virus has been implicated in causing the majority of cervical cancer in women. Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order in January requiring all sixth grade girls to receive the vaccine as part of their required inoculations, but legislators balked at the order, saying the Governor overstepped his bounds. Tuesday, the committee considered several bills that would create new rules relating to the state's authority to require HPV vaccines. One bill, HB 1098, sponsored in the Senate by Katy Senator Glenn Hegar would prevent the HPV vaccine from being required as part of public school admission. Leticia Van de Putte offered a bill, SB 110, that would require the Texas Education Agency to create a program to educate parents and students of the benefits of HPV vaccine.

The Senate passed a measure Tuesday that would permit the University Interscholastic League to begin testing high school athletes for performance enhancing drugs. Senate Bill 8, by Galveston Senator Kyle Janek, would require that UIL test 3 percent of athletes each year, and that the samples come from 30 percent of high schools. Administration of the test, and sanctions for violators would be left to the discretion of UIL officials.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 10, at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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