As students face rising tuition, Texas legislators are trying to undo a previous law that deregulated tuition costs.
The 2003 Texas Legislature passed a law deregulating tuition at Texas’ public universities, which allowed universities to set their own tuition rates without legislative oversight. State Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, said she was a student at the time and opposed the law. Now, she is trying to reregulate tuition with House Bill 132, which would cap tuition.
“In 2003 … I was really passionate about tuition because I was a student, and I came to testify about the deregulation of tuition at the time and my concern for the impact on tuition,” González said at the House Higher Education committee meeting on Wednesday. “Now, as a student graduating this year with my Ph.D., I realize the impact that the deregulation of tuition has had on our state, so (House Bill) 132 is about reregulating tuition to create accountability and transparency to our taxpayers.”
González said the state average for total tuition and fees has doubled since 2003, from $3,868 to $8,450.
“Just graduating with a bachelor’s degree alone (is) an average of $30,000 (in debt) … which is over 70% of (recent graduates’) wages,” González said. “For students of color, this debt can average over 100% of their first term wages. We can no longer ask our students to go into debt.”
Gabriela Garza, a UT alumna, said she followed in her parents footsteps by getting a UT degree, but her parents paid about $3,000 for their tuition per year, while she has paid more than $8,000 every year.
“I was not able to put myself through university the way that they were,” Garza said. “I am left with a significant financial burden of student debt postgraduation … I deeply believe that by making it more difficult to attain higher education and making it more expensive, we are limiting opportunities and making it more difficult for people to achieve the American dream of having the opportunity through education to succeed and to have to achieve the life that they want to live.”
Engineering Ph.D. student Samantha Fuchs said the problem persists for graduate students too.
“At the graduate school level, the funds from my engineering department cover my tuition costs,” Fuchs said. “For other graduate students, they don’t necessarily have a well-funded department. They wind up having to pay the tuition costs themselves, which means doubling up on loans from undergraduate and graduate careers, leaving them up to $150,000 in debt for fields that do not necessarily correspond to high salaries after completing their degree.”
State Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, said he voted for tuition deregulation in 2003 and regrets it.
“I wish I had the vote back,” Smithee said at the committee meeting. “It’s been a mistake, and what it’s done is instead of forcing regents and administrators to live within a budget, if they need more money, they can just write the check by raising tuition … We’re going to make college education unaffordable for most Texas families, and that’s a real shame.”
González said she hopes HB 132 passes, but one of her staffers, who declined to be quoted, said it may not happen because the bill lacks support from universities. HB 132 was left pending in committee.