|Rep. Pitts: Texas Families Need Legislature to Reconsider Tuition Deregulation|
Prior to my election to the Texas House in 1992, I served fourteen years on the Waxahachie School Board. When I served as Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, one of my top priorities was to make sure that our public colleges and universities remained affordable for Texans. Education has always been a passion for me.
For over a century, Texas’ public colleges and universities have given families a chance to put their children on the road to economic success. During my first five sessions, countless numbers of my constituents have sent their children off to study in the various cities round the state that are home to our public institutions. But in nearly every case, affordability has been a driving factor. A degree from a public college or university in Texas was within reach of virtually any family in this state.Like many members, I had serious concerns about passing a tuition deregulation bill in 2003, but I reluctantly supported it because we faced with an enormous budget shortfall. I believed that providing our schools with some flexibility would ease this burden, but that tuition increases should be moderated and offset by increased financial aid. Unfortunately, we were led to believe that complete deregulation-- not moderation --was the only answer. During the last legislative session, efforts to reign in the effects of tuition deregulation were quickly ended by House leadership. We cannot afford another session of inaction.
Under complete deregulation, tuition at our state’s public colleges and universities has risen by 58 percent and the statewide average for tuition and mandatory fees has increased 53 percent. Overall, this translates to an average student paying $2,000 more per year than they were years ago, without even factoring in the costs of room and board, textbooks, or personal expenses. As a result, many Texas families are finding the possibility of a college degree for their children out of reach.
Nor has funding for student aid kept pace with reality, with the Texas Grant program now only able to help less than half of the qualified students.
There is one bright spot. The Texas A&M University System recently announced a program that will cover tuition and fees for any qualified student from a family that earns less than $30,000 per year. Texas A&M University already has a similar program in place for families earning less than $60,000 per year. Similar programs are also in place at the University of Houston and University of North Texas Systems, as well as the University of Texas at Arlington. These programs are a great first step towards keeping higher education affordable and building a well-educated workforce that will help Texas compete in a global economy. But much more must be done.
While universities need some flexibility to address the rising costs of providing a high-quality education, the Legislature must ensure that rates are not increased to fund pork barrel projects. It is your money, and it must be spent wisely.
The Legislature will face enormous challenges when it convenes on January 13th. The national economy is in recession, and the prospects for the Texas economy in the near term do not look good. In the face of all of this, I see two possibilities. One is to continue the status quo, and allow divisiveness and partisan rancor to paralyze the House. The other is to support a Speaker who will let members fully consider this and other issues without fear of retribution.
Texans deserve better.