Committee hears two tuition-regulation bills

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate Committee on Higher Education heard bills Wednesday to limit tuition increases in higher ed.

In 2003, legislators deregulated tuition, granting universities control of tuition rates. Since the tuition deregulation, in-state tuition at UT has increased from $2,721 to $4,905 per semester, but for the past four years, tuition rates have been relatively constant.

“We now allow boards of regents to raise tuition on their own, and [they are] shifting funds away from states and to families,“ Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) said. 

The committee heard two bills — one by Ellis and another by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). While both bills have slightly different implementation measures, their goals are essentially the same: to regulate tuition at the state level again.

Unlike Ellis’ bill, Schwertner’s addresses capping student fees as well as tuition. His bill also only applies to public four-year institutions.

Ellis, author of SB 255, said he thinks the deregulation of tuition has placed a financial burden on Texas students and their families.

“That makes it hard for students to attend the schools that were built to serve them,” Ellis said. “It pushes families to a point where they incur debt.”

The availability of loans to finance student tuition limits universities’ interests in decreasing tuition, according to Schwertner, author of SB 233.

“Because of readily available access to student loans, universities never truly have an incentive to control costs or lower tuition,” Schwertner said. “Universities know that the financing will always be there.”

Plan II and biochemistry senior Andrew Gulde testified at the hearing in support of Ellis’ bill. He said the only way for students to have a say in UT’s tuition decisions is through the nonvoting student regent.

“I support SB 255 because it’s the only bill that allows families like mine and me to hold legislators accountable for tuition decisions,” Gulde said. “I believe the Legislature — not an elected board — is the proper place for these decisions to be made.”

University library assistant Kathryn Kenefick testified on both bills. Kenefick said she supports the strong push in the Texas Legislature for tuition.

“I hear tales from students as they are getting ready to complete school and looking for jobs and have the terrible burden of student debt that has come from the institutional costs,” Kenefick said.

When Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked Schwertner if he thought the bill would pass through the full Senate, Schwertner chuckled and said, “There’s always hope, Senator.“