By State Representative Ryan Guillen
During the regular session of the legislature last year, I opposed higher tuition for state colleges and universities. Advocates of tuition deregulation said there was no money to increase funding to higher education and that allowing universities to raise tuition on their own would save the state of Texas money.
Recent public hearings in Austin have shown that such increases are indeed poor public policy.
In May of last year, I wrote, "Efforts by the majority in the House of Representatives this week to allow public universities to raise their tuition and fees without oversight or limits is a disservice to the people of this state and a threat to the children of poor and middle income families with dreams of one day attending one of our top state universities."
At a time when we are urging more and more young people to go to college it seems contradictory to make it harder and harder for students to pay for a college education.
In legislative hearings in Austin last week, it was revealed that the higher the tuition, the more financial aid the state must provide. Sen. Robert Duncan (Lubbock) laid out a case that the state's current system encourages colleges to raise tuition because higher tuition means higher levels of student financial aid and increased income to the schools.
Duncan used a series of questions to demonstrate that deregulating tuition did little more than put pressure on the state's financial aid programs. Duncan demonstrated that federal financial aid is limited and he made the point that increasing tuition meant students would be relying more heavily on state financial aid programs for those higher costs.
I agree with Sen. Duncan when he said, "As the cost of tuition goes up, we are going to be draining - or putting pressure on - all systems of financial aid to make sure we cover the poorest." He made it clear that, "Those in the middle class are going to be forced to take out the loans and incur debt to get an education."
This will mean most middle-income families will have huge expenses as their children enter college and then more debt later after graduation. I believe this is poor public policy.
College administrators at the hearing agreed that the state would wind up paying for rising higher education costs through increased financial aid programs. That means campuses that raise tuition expect to see the state provide additional financial aid money to their campuses.
The same administrators, representing leading Texas universities, agreed it would be necessary for the state to subsidize their tuition increases by additional funding of programs such as Texas Grants and Texas Work Studies in order to allow students the same opportunities they have today.
Carol McDonald, president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, made the situation clear when she stated, "In other words, either the state subsidizes lower tuition so more students can afford to go to college or the state is forced to provide more financial aid to those students who can't afford tuition. It's a balance between the two."
I believe the best solution is to keep tuition as low as possible and have the state go back to subsidizing state university expenses. This allows students of limited financial means and their families to secure a college education without going deeply into debt.
Right now it is in Texas universities best interest to raise tuition, even if it limits some students' ability to attend and puts others deeply in debt, because it means bigger budgets for the universities. The control over tuition was the only control the legislature had over university income and spending.
It did come out in the hearing that the new Texas Grants Program which provides funding for college tuition was under-used at present. I will be sending a letter to each of the superintendents in Duval, Starr, Zapata and Webb counties urging them to work with their counseling staff to make sure all our high school seniors are aware of the various programs that can help pay for their college expenses.
Finally, let me say that I see definite signs that there will be a push to drop the "Ten Percent" rule which now allows all high school students in Texas in the top ten percent of their graduating class to attend a state university. I believe this is a good program which has gone a long way to guarantee bright students of limited means, whose parents may not have attended college, acceptance into our state's finest universities.
This program has enhanced diversity and given hope to many students who otherwise would never have tried for a college education, and I believe we must fight to preserve it now and in the future.
Until next time.
From the office of: State Representative Ryan Guillen
District 31 : Duval, Starr, Webb and Zapata Counties
Contact: Communications Director Robert McVey ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Office 512-463-0416 -- Cell 512-779-8914 -- Home 512-374-9525 FAX 512-463-1012
Robert M. McVey
Southern District Office: