THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
By: Holly K. Hacker
The leaders of Texas’ six university systems agree on at least one thing: They want the state Legislature to give them more money.
More money to teach a growing number of students. More money to build or renovate classrooms and laboratories.
“We want the state to invest in our young people. We want them to invest in intellectual knowledge,” said Robert Duncan, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. Such investment, he said, will help the state grow, create jobs and remain competitive.
Duncan and the other leaders shared their legislative wish list at a meeting Monday with The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board. Tuesday marks the start of the 2015 legislative session in Austin. The biggest task for lawmakers over the next five months will be crafting and passing the state’s budget for the next two years.
Higher education makes up $17.9 billion of the state’s $200.4 billion current spending plan. Other big chunks of the budget go to public schools, health care and public safety, among other areas.
Here’s what the chancellors want state lawmakers to do:
Increase basic funding to universities. The state gives money based on the number and type of credit hours that students take. It averages nearly $55 a credit hour now. Chancellors want that amount raised to what it was in 2011 — just over $62 a credit hour.
Provide money for new classrooms and labs. The state has not approved that type of funding, in the form of tuition revenue bonds, since 2006. “It’s just like patching potholes. You skip a cycle and it gets harder when you start up again,” said Lee Jackson, head of the University of North Texas System.
Make the state’s biggest financial aid program a priority. The Texas Grants program helps low-income students afford college. “It’s very important for us,” said Renu Khator, University of Houston System chancellor. “It’s important for getting these students through the pipeline.”
Have the state pick up the cost of a program that gives free tuition for veterans and their families. The Hazlewood Act exempts veterans and their dependents from paying tuition and fees at Texas public universities. The mandate cost universities $169 million in 2014 and could reach $286 million by 2017, according to the chancellors.
Public universities get their money from two main places: the state budget and student tuition and fees.
This year Texas public universities charge an average of $8,830 in tuition and fees, according to the College Board. A decade ago they charged $6,384 in inflation-adjusted dollars. That’s a 38-percent increase. Most students receive some type of financial aid.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin, came up with its own priorities for higher education. Among them: a 10 percent cut in university administrative budgets and a two-year moratorium on all new building projects “in light of the increasing popularity of online courses.”
That’s not feasible, said Brian McCall, chancellor of the Texas State University System. “The facilities that we’re asking for are engineering buildings and chemistry labs, for the type of courses that can’t best be taught online.”
The system leaders said they’ve worked to save money where they can.
The other chancellors in the group were John Sharp from Texas A&M System and Bill McRaven of the University of Texas System. None of the six leaders suggested where or how the state might come up with extra money for their universities.
Of the six, Duncan, Jackson, McCall and Sharp are former state lawmakers. None suggested he would have an easy time getting the wish list fulfilled.