Cost and Control: Focus on Texas higher education

UT students on campus with the tower in background (KXAN Photo)
UT students on campus with the tower in background (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Texas families worry about how they will pay for their child’s college education, Texas lawmakers debate how much that family should pay.

The state of Texas used to have the final say, but 14 years ago, under a budget crunch, the legislature gave that power up. University Board of Regents have been setting tuition rates ever since. But in this spring’s 85th legislative session, several key lawmakers are trying to take back the power to set tuition rates. No matter the outcome, more than half a million college students will feel the outcome of that debate.

The November 2002 election gave Republicans complete power in Texas. Rick Perry was easily elected as Governor, then Land Commissioner David Dewhurst became Lt. Governor and for the first time since Reconstruction a Republican, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, was elected Speaker of the House. They came to Austin in the midst of an economic downturn. The state budget had a $10 billion shortfall.

  • WATCH the full report on how the cost of higher education has changed in Texas over the past 14 years on KXAN News on the CW Austin at 9:30 p.m., Sunday, March 26

To avoid massive cuts to Texas public universities, the Texas House spearheaded giving university Board of Regents the ability to set their own tuition. In 2003, House Appropriations Chairman, Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Harris County, told KXAN, “We did this, in lieu of giving higher ed money.” The Texas Senate, especially Senate Democrats, thought regents would run wild with tuition. In last minute negotiations over the budget, HB 3015 passed and state lawmakers gave up their power to set tuition.

In the meantime, people across the country became increasingly critical of the cost of going to college. Texas leaders began pointing more and more to how university tuition grew by 150 percent since tuition was handed over to board of regents.

In 2015, new leaders came to power in Texas, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Texas took in more revenue than normal that year so they gave higher education a bump. Bills to control the cost of a higher education died in committee.

The following year, the University of Texas Board of Regents raised tuition shortly after news broke about performance-based one year bonuses given out to university faculty.

Lt. Gov. Patrick and Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, are now leading the effort to retake control over tuition in some way. They want to either tie tuition to a set of “performance based” metric or freeze tuition altogether.

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