A Wake-Up Call

Is the Texas Senate balancing its budget on the back of higher ed? That’s the question the Austin American-Statesman asked this week in a look at the state of the budget in both chambers of the Texas legislature and exactly what is getting cut in these lean times. “Most health care funding is tied up in federal mandates. Significant cuts to K-12 education funding would be politically untenable. The Department of Public Safety is bolstered by the GOP dedication to border security spending. The state’s public colleges and universities, however, appear to be an easier target.” Lawmakers will begin budget negotiations in the coming weeks. Given Speaker Straus' criticism of the Senate budget as akin to "cooking the books," negotiations between the chambers should be interesting.

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'Robin Hood' for Higher Ed?

As budget battles in the Legislature heat up, the question of whether or not lawmakers will tap into the Rainy Day Fund continues to be a hot topic of discussion at the capitol – and on the state’s editorial pages. The Eagle this week laid out the case for why lawmakers should access the fund for public and higher education needs, saying the fund should “not be sacrosanct” … “It would be a shame to let our students suffer because of a refusal to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.”

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Read my lips: No More Bills

Friday was the last day for Texas lawmakers to file a bill this legislative session, which brought about an expected flurry of activity. One bill, filed by Rep. J.M. Lozano, would limit higher education benefits for the children of veterans, a controversial issue killed in the 2015 Session. When lawmakers passed the provision (the Hazelwood Act) to allow veterans to pass their benefits to their dependents, it predicted a $10 million price tag – a figure, it turns out, was dramatically underestimated. The cost in 2015 was $178 million and is expected to increase. The state only picks up 20% of the tab, leaving the universities to pay for the rest. Lozano’s bill would limit benefits to veterans who served four years or more, and would expire the benefit 15 years after an honorable discharge, so it would only apply to kids born while their parents were on active duty.

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The Budget, McRaven, SXSW & Rick Perry

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has encouraged his chamber’s budget writer to dip into the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” to address the state’s budget challenges. This week House Appropriations Chair Rep. John Zerwas filed House Bill 2 that would access $1.4 billion from the fund. “I believe this is a better option than leaving $12 billion sitting in the bank while making deep cuts to higher education and significantly increasing health care premiums on retired teachers,” said Straus. “Our approach keeps spending low but also recognizes some very important priorities and some very real obligations.”

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Budget Cuts, Sexual Assault and Waivers

“Sadly, as a new dean, one of my first decisions was to cut the class size.” That decision, by Carrie Byington, the new dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine, was based on “substantial funding cuts” looming in the Legislature in both the House and Senate versions of the budget. The cuts create uncertainty, which disrupts planning for the school and future students. Byington also lamented the likely cuts to special item funding, which will impact programs such as Healthy South Texas, an education program that has reached more than 300,000 people since 2015 on topics such as diet, exercise, chronic condition management and Zika prevention.

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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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