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Students now pay public colleges more than states do
Students now pay public colleges and universities more than states do, a new study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found.
As states slashed higher education funding over the last several years, colleges and universities leaned more on tuition to cover costs -- part of the reason behind the astronomical jump in the cost of college. The GAO's findings paint a stark picture of just how much that trend changed the way public schools are funded from 2003 to 2012.
While state funding for public schools decreased by 12 percent overall, the median tuition at those schools rose 55 percent. Tuition accounted for 25 percent of public colleges' revenue, up from 17 percent, surpassing state funding by 2012, when the states accounted for 23 percent of schools' budgets. Average net tuition -- the estimated tuition after grant aid is deducted -- rose 19 percent.
"These increases have contributed to the decline in college affordability as students and their families are bearing the cost of college as a larger portion of their total family budgets," the GAO wrote.
The federal study looked at funding figures nationwide and did not mention Texas specifically, but it did touch on a couple of policy changes that state lawmakers could consider in their upcoming session: doing away with tuition deregulation -- or once again allowing the state to control tuition -- and tying state funding to performance by colleges.
In 2003, the Texas 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. At some schools, the increase was even greater. Designated tution at the University of Houston, for instance, jumped 280 percent to $2,643 per semester 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.
Now lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want 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.
The GAO study points out that many states control tuition and that "several experts and organizations who commented on this topic said that when tuition is set centrally by the state and colleges have less authority, there are positive effects on affordability for students."
Texas, meanwhile, could join a growing list of states that tie a portion of university funding to performance measures, such as graduation rates. Community colleges and technical schools in Texas already use the type of model that the Legislature may consider extending to four-year universities this year.
More and more states, looking for ways to increase college completion rates among minority and low-income students, have worked to tie funding to outcomes. Twenty-five states have developed plans to do that. Texas' latest proposal would create a $235-million incentive fund for schools that improve on seven metrics, including the number of undergraduate degrees they award, how many of those degrees go to at-risk students and the schools' retention rate for those students.
While the plan is being pushed by the state's higher education coordinating board, some lawmakers and leaders of Houston-area schools, like UH and Texas Southern University, have questioned it, calling it a "one size fits all model."
"UT is going to improve, A&M is going to improve at a greater level than the University of Houston or TSU is able to, and they will eat up the pool," state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat who represents both schools, said last month. "Those schools in my district lose based on all of the equations that have been presented over the years."
The GAO study said that states have seen mixed results when going to a performance-based funding model. It cites a recent nationwide study of such policies that found little evidence tying performance funding to positive outcomes, but it says that is in part because so few states keep their policies in place long enough to actually change colleges' behavior.
Basically, the GAO study says, time will tell how effective performance-based funding policies actually are.