Op-Ed: Putting the Brakes on Texas’ Skyrocketing College Tuition


“Putting the Brakes on Texas’ Skyrocketing College Tuition”
By Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Texans pursue higher education with the hope for a future of unlimited opportunity. Education is the pathway to success, and our economy is dependent upon a well-educated workforce. That is why Texans who work tirelessly to pay their college tuition, or to provide for their children to attend college, must be assured they are getting a quality education at a cost they can afford. They need to know that the degree that is earned has real value in the marketplace and the promise of gainful employment.

Last month I wrote to all 38 of our public universities and asked for tuition data for each school since 2002. Before the 2003 legislative session, when de-regulation was passed, the Legislature set tuition.

Here are the facts: Since 2002 tuition and fees have skyrocketed 147 percent while household income grew at only 32 percent.

Where did the money go? Administration spending grew 149 percent, management spending grew 72 percent, while spending in classrooms only grew at 65 percent.

Salaries are also at an all-time high, and since 2012, salaries for top administrators have nearly doubled. Some employees were given $100,000 to $400,000 bonuses on top of million-dollar pay checks.

Have we seen great results to match these increases in spending? No. Today in Texas, only 1 in 4 students graduate within a traditional four-year cycle and less than half earn a degree within six years. As a result, more and more students are leaving college without earning the degree they sought although they remain saddled with burdensome college debt. Those who do graduate often find the value of their degree is questionable when job prospects remain out of reach for many.

Some try to blame these problems on the legislature for allegedly cutting higher education spending, but in fact the Legislature is actually spending more on higher education. However, our share of total funding is down because we can’t keep up with the profligate spending of university leaders.

During the 84th legislative session, state leaders demonstrated our commitment to higher education by increasing funding by nearly $300 million (approximately 9 percent) and authorized over $3 billion for campus buildings. Yet within months of this increase, most public universities once again approved tuition increases.

To move forward in providing affordable, excellent higher education to Texas students, universities must scrutinize every dollar spent as we do in the legislature. Many universities are making strides in targeting inefficiencies and incorporating innovative cost-efficient programs. These include developing low-cost degree options and more flexible course options for students. Such efforts are making a difference – but we need to see a much more comprehensive approach to reducing costs and increasing student success, and it must start today.

Our goal must be to prevent tuition and fees from continuing to far outpace what Texans earn and live on now.

That is why I am calling on the leadership of our higher education institutions to partner with the legislature to develop state – and institutional-based solutions.

There is simply no more time to engage in the blame game as parents and their students struggle to afford higher education with the hope for a future of unlimited opportunity.