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Should the state control tuition at Texas universities?

by Benjamin Wermund | Houston Chronicle |

Tuition at many Texas universities has skyrocketed over the last decade, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want the state to re-regulate how much schools charge to attend.

In 2003, the Legislature voted to let public colleges set their own tuition. Since then, the average cost to attend a state school more than doubled to $3,951 a semester, according to data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. 

Now there's a growing push to reverse the 2003 decision. At least two bills have been filed to do so in the 2015 session, including one by Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, and another by Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Central Texas Republican.

Schwertner, whose bill would cap tuition and fees at current levels and allow increases only for inflation, wrote in the Chronicle that American higher education is a "broken system" that is "leaving an entire generation of students mired in debt and frustrated by a lack of opportunity while supplying universities with extravagant budgets to fund special projects and ever-expanding administrations."

 

"Texas simply cannot maintain a strong economy without also maintaining a strong workforce, and we cannot maintain a strong workforce without affordable access to higher education," wrote Schwertner, who filed his bill earlier this month. "Attending one of our world-class public universities shouldn't be a luxury afforded only to the wealthy or those willing to mortgage their futures by assuming massive student loan debt."

The Young Conservatives of Texas, a nonpartisan conservative youth organization, voiced support for Schwertner's proposal.

Last week, Ellis offered a slightly different version. He wants to repeal tuition deregulation, and this is his third attempt to do so. He filed a similar bill last year, but it didn't even get a committee hearing. In 2011, he offered an amendment to the higher education fiscal matters bill that would have repealed deregulation, but it failed on a 16-15 vote.

Tuition at Houston's public universities has risen sharply since 2003.

Designated tution at the University of Houston jumped 280 percent to $2,643 in 2013. UH charged $2,266 in tuition and fees in 2003. A decade later, UH,which is now one of the most expensive schools in the state, charged $5,223.

Texas Southern University's tuition jumped nearly as much to $2,355 in 2013. Counting fees, TSU charged $3,973 in 2013, compared to $1,866 in 2003.

"This is pricing hard-working families out of higher education, forcing students who are able to attend to work, graduate with enormous debt loads, and push back their graduation and eventual entrance into the full time workforce," Ellis said in a statement. "The people of Texas send their elected officials to Austin to make tough decisions and invest in what's important to our state's future. Affordable higher education is no doubt one of those items."

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