Capitol Update from Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

March 8, 2004

Sen. Lucio Cautions on Tuition Deregulation

Higher education should always be the Texas Legislature's priority. Unfortunately, this past legislative session, tuition deregulation became law based on the rationale that we are not meeting our state universities' financial needs without further investigation as to the hardships we are placing on Texas students.

I voted against House Bill 3015, the tuition deregulation bill, which removed legislative oversight of what our universities charge students. Many legislators who approved this bill are now calling for an audit of some universities over concern that the deregulation may not be a good plan for Texas.

I, for one, am monitoring any increases closely to see how we can minimize their negative impact on current and future students. Unfortunately, any attempts to address this issue will have to wait until the 2005 legislative session.

Those from areas like the Rio Grande Valley and all along the Border aspiring to attend a flagship university may never see their dreams materialize.

According to The Perryman Report, our tuition increases exceed that of any other of the 10 most populous states. A study by the Higher Education Coordinating Board also noted that "through 2004 the number of Texans age 25 and older with some college or a degree will fall significantly." The Perryman Report concludes that a decline in educational attainment means a drop in the average household income of an estimated $5,087 (adjusted for inflation). Poverty levels would rise, as would the number of Texans relying on Medicaid, food stamps and other state programs.

These are tough financial times and budgetary maneuvers had to be enacted. However, I question if those supporting this measure were guided with the best interest of our students and faculties.

To add to the burden of rising tuition, we are also facing decreasing financial aid. Already we have had to freeze the Texas Tomorrow Fund, the program allowing parents to begin saving for their children's future college education. Another college-bound program, the Texas Grant Program, was not funded sufficiently this past regular session, so now we face the possibility that sufficient funds will be unavailable next year for first-time students. And still another program to help students with higher education costs that I championed but was denied needed appropriations was the Texas Next Step Program, which would have paid the tuition and required fees, plus textbooks, for every student registering within 16 months of high school graduation at a community college.

For now, we are all forced to deal with tuition deregulation.

My goal is that more of our local students enroll in the larger universities away from home, but conversely I want our local universities to also expand their undergraduate and graduate level programs, as well as build professional schools. The unfortunate mix of tuition increases and insufficient funding will limit expansion of programs.

I do commend our South Texas colleges and universities for increasing tuition only slightly. My concern is what the future rate increases might be. I fear that deregulating tuition rates will create an environment in this state where only the wealthy have access to our colleges and universities.

The University of Texas at Austin is implementing some "safeguards" to help prevent attrition among low-income and middle-income students and to continue encouraging them--and minority populations--to apply. UT-Austin is setting aside 28% of every one dollar of the $360 tuition increase this spring semester to fund financial aid for economically disadvantaged students. Grants will be available for students who qualify for financial aid for 100% to 50% of the additional tuition proposed for families who earn from under $40,000 up to $80,000 a year.

The proposal to increase tuition again by another $360 for the 2004 fall semester is still under consideration; although a 3% cap on fee increases was approved.

Texas A&M University increased its tuition by $9 per semester hour for the spring 2004 semester. The school is also creating a $5,000 scholarship per year for first-generation college students whose family incomes are $40,000 or below. A&M is setting aside 20% of every one dollar of their tuition increase to fund the scholarship. The school has also created an advisory committee of students, parents, faculty and administrators to make recommendations on fee increases.

Although state university systems are developing methods to minimize the financial impact on students, they are unfortunately forced because of financial aid limits to assist the most economically disadvantaged. Middle-income students will be priced out of college if tuition deregulation continues and prices skyrocket.

As one of the stewards of the state's resources, I take to heart all the concern that has been voiced about the tuition deregulation. I will encourage my legislative colleagues to examine the results and future impacts of tuition increases next session, and that we straighten out our priorities for the good of all Texans.

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