Tuition Re-regulation

The battle over tuition is picking up in the Texas Legislature and some people around the capitol take passage of re-regulation of tuition as inevitable. A lot has been written about the issue. However, this Austin-American Statesman story from March 7 seems to be the best overview of the issues (at least for those of us who like having the numbers about how much tuition has gone up).

Rising Tuition in Texas

Rising Tuition in Texas

It’s hard not be be alarmed by the dramatic rise in tuition. (It’s even more alarming for faculty members who haven’t seen any of these increases turn into significant pay raises.) However, there is a certain irony in the rush to re-regulation. Generally, free market forces are hailed by Republicans as the best way for prices to be set.  Judith Zaffirini, who chair the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, understands that state funding has fallen far behind the rate of enrollment and inflation and is trying to get the state to return to its previous levels of support for its schools. However, she’s one of the few willing to take accept the risks of real leadership.

The politics of higher education is going to be a mess. Texans expect tuition to be capped next year. At the same time, Perry and other state leaders had promised to educate another 500,000 Texans by 2015. This means more students and (likely) more poorly prepared students. As a story in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram describes the problems that senior vice provost at UTA Michael Moore and other leading educators face in getting the flood of students to graduation. While that initiative began well, growth rates have slowed and the state has fallen behind its goals and more resources are needed. Soon, formulas for funding universities will shift from rewarding schools based on students who begin the semester to those that finish the semester. Thus, universities will be told to take in more students — and keep them (social promotion can be fun and profitable!).

In the middle of the enrollment pressures legislators from cities around the state are jockeying to get schools from their districts designated as the state’s next Tier 1 school. However, academic fame has hits price. As soon as our state’s leaders take a break from attacking President Obama for promising too much, they’re going to come to grips with the promises they’ve made.

Students, parents, and faculty should brace for disappointment.

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