Gov. Rick Perry calls upon Legislature to freeze college tuition

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Gov. Rick Perry reaffirmed his support for freezing four-year tuition rates for incoming freshmen in his biannual State of the State address yesterday.

Perry first proposed fixed four-year tuition rates Sept. 21 at the 2012 Texas Tribune Festival as part of an effort to lower the cost of attending college.

Speaking to a joint session of the Texas Legislature, Perry said fixed tuition rates would provide students and families with an expected cost of attendance.

“This will also encourage them to graduate on time, which is a problem we simply can’t ignore anymore,” Perry said.

Perry said less than 30 percent of full-time students at state universities graduate in four years and 58 percent graduate in six.

After the address, state lawmakers expressed both support for the initiative and skepticism over the details of implementing fixed tuition rates. 

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, former Senate Higher Education Committee chair, said fixed rates would prevent students from facing tuition increases while attending college but students would pay higher tuition overall.

“The only way to make it work is to make it sufficiently high that the costs will be covered for four years,” Zaffirini said.

Zaffirini said the Legislature should examine how different universities would be impacted by implementing fixed-rate tuition because it may not work as well at one university as it does at another.

“While it has been effective at UT-Dallas, it may not be as effective elsewhere,” Zaffirini said.

Two bills filed in the House of Representatives propose fixed tuition rates, but the bills take different approaches toward implementation.

One bill, filed Friday by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would prohibit universities from charging students who graduate on time a tuition rate higher than the one charged during their first semester or term at a university. Tuition rates would remain locked in for a four-year period for undergraduates enrolled in a four-year degree plan and for a five-year period for those enrolled in a five-year degree plan.

A second bill, filed by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would require universities to offer students a fixed-rate tuition plan as one option among other payment plans.

Branch said he does not agree with mandating that higher education institutions offer only fixed-rate tuition because it does not account for the different needs of separate institutions.

“To me, to have that narrow of a pricing structure may be unwise,” Branch said. “I think the more options we give students and citizens,
the better.”

Alvarado said she is open to working with Branch, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, to find consensus.

“If we get the job done and it’s somebody else’s bill, that’s fine, but I think that the main point is that we’ve got to get control over the rising cost of college tuition,” Alvarado said.

Since the Legislature deregulated tuition in 2003, the statewide average designated tuition cost rose from $625 for 15 credit hours in fall 2003 to $1,818 in fall 2011, according to data provided by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.