A Perfect Storm

Last week the Senate passed its budget and the House continued negotiations on its version. The picture, at least as far as the Senate version is concerned, is bleak for higher education. Calling it a “perfect storm,” the Texas Tribune noted the “top three sources of revenue for Texas public universities are all being targeted for reductions or freezes by federal or state government leaders.” House Speaker Joe Straus has acknowledged the Senate cuts are too deep saying they would “have a pretty severe impact on higher education.” The House budget, which taps $2.5 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to avoid draconian cuts to higher education, will be voted on later this week. Outside interest groups are threatening lawmakers who support using the fund.
 
In an op-ed that appeared on editorial pages around the state, UT Austin President Greg Fenves highlighted how improving graduation rates can reduce student debt. “The effectiveness of a university should be measured by the number of students it lifts up and supports. To be a great university in 2017, an institution must support opportunities for all of the students it admits from day one and strive for 100 percent graduation.” Through a series of programs and a renewed focus on supporting student success, UT’s four year graduation rate went from 50.6 percent in 2011 to 60.9 percent in 2016 with a goal of reaching 70 percent for the class of 2017.
 
In a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle, former UT System board of regents chairman Charles Miller criticized efforts in the legislature to eliminate special items from the budget (the Senate eliminated special items for higher education). He writes, “The current approach of whacking away at such invaluable programs is a disastrous way to fund higher education. This shameful way of allocating resources has a hint of antagonism to higher education and comes across as punitive. Someone in leadership needs to show up and change this course of destructive behavior.”
 
Texas A&M this week announced a program called Pioneers Scholars, which will award up to $5,000 per year for students enrolling in its Higher Education Center in McAllen. Students have to be admitted, accept the offer to participate in the inaugural class and “remain in good standing, academically and behaviorally.” The scholarships are available for up to four years.
 
KXAN, the NBC affiliate in Austin, produced a short documentary this week that looks at the current state of higher education tuition in Texas. The piece looks back at tuition deregulation and to the present debate over re-regulation and whether lawmakers or the universities can best set tuition to meet the institutions’ needs.

Week of April 2, 2017

Latest Updates

  • True or False?

    True or false: Tuition and fees at Sam Houston State University, the University of Houston, Texas State University and four other public schools in the state exceed the sticker price for the University of Texas at Austin. The answer, surprisingly, is true.” That’s the lead of an Austin American-Statesman piece on tuition and fees at Texas public institutions. UT Austin not only has the lowest tuition of those institutions, but since tuition deregulation has had the lowest percentage increase in tuition. “UT-Dallas is the most expensive of the state’s 38 public universities, with tuition and fees totaling $5,903 for the fall 2016 semester … UT-Austin’s price tag for academic charges was $5,046, eighth-highest. Texas A&M University was fourth-highest at $5,225. … The statewide average was $4,374.” The cost of tuition will be a continued point of interest with lawmakers over the interim and into the next Legislative Session.

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  • How can you save over $20,000 on college costs?

    “How can you save over $20,000 on college costs? Graduate on time.” That’s the analysis from a Wall Street Journal piece this week. Only 40% of full-time students at four-year schools graduate on time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education. That’s why universities across the country, including UT Austin, are focused on using data to help address the challenge – and find a solution. Using data from academic transcripts and personal records, UT Austin has identified the 25% of students least likely to graduate on time and has enrolled them in the University Leadership Network, which, in addition to requiring students to attend weekly seminars and do internships on campus, incentivizes students for making progress toward their degrees.

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