Diversity, tuition costs on college campuses addressed at Texas Tribune Festival

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Robert Duncan, Kel Seliger, Helen Giddings, Greg Fenves and Dan Branch discuss issues in higher education affecting students across Texas.
Photo Credit: Emmanuel Briseño | Daily Texan Staff

Panelists at the Texas Tribune Festival met over the weekend to discuss issues in higher education affecting students across Texas.

The slow growth of racial diversity and high tuition costs at Texas colleges were issues panelists wanted to see addressed when the 85th Legislature begins in the upcoming months. 

Campus carry was implemented in August but has been  debated since it was introduced in the last legislative session. Panelists met Saturday to discuss the future of the law.

Campus administrators at the “Paying for Higher Ed” panel on Saturday worried for the future of Texas higher education, citing rising tuition costs and the possible elimination of tuition set-asides. 

UT President Gregory Fenves said the University has seen student benefits go up, but funding from the state has gone down. In 2016, there was a tuition raise of around $300 after not seeing an increase in over five years. Fenves believes the defunding of tuition set-asides could be an issue going forward.

Fenves said the lack of funding is holding back the growth of many Texas universities.

“The legislature could do more … to incentivize innovation,” Fenves said.

Helen Giddings, vice chairwoman of the House State Affairs Committee, brought up the 60x30TX plan, which aims to get 60 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds a college degree by 2030 and increase minority access to higher education. She said this is an unrealistic goal if the legislature continues to insufficiently fund higher education.

At the “Higher Ed for a Diverse Texas” panel Saturday, Guy Bailey, president of UT-Rio Grande Valley, said colleges need to create an environment for minority students to succeed. This will lead to higher graduation rates.

He also said funding for colleges will need to increase in order for minority students to succeed.

“Part of our challenge is helping people in the state understanding the importance of higher education,” Bailey said.

Funding for higher education is a major issue going into the next legislative session, but the last session forced Texas public universities to implement campus carry, a law some university administrators did not agree with.

Since its implementation on Aug. 1, there has only been once incident of an accidental discharge, which took place at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. The “Campus Carry is the Law. Now What?” panel was held to discuss the future of campus carry in Texas and the concerns some had.

Steven Goode has worked at UT’s law school for 39 years and was the chairman of the working group on campus carry.

“If a student has access to a handgun, that’s going to increase their chances of suicide,” Goode said Saturday afternoon during the panel. “I don’t know how that plays out in the context of campus carry.”

UT associate professor Mia Carter, who has recently sued the University and state over the law, said everyone on campus got stuck with campus carry.

“Both McRaven and Fenves said a loaded gun in the classroom would have a chilling effect in the classroom,” Carter said. “Our Founding Fathers thought guns shouldn’t be a part of education at all.”