AUSTIN - During the 78th regular session of the Texas Legislature, lawmakers decided to give state colleges and universities the authority to set tuition rates at whatever level they chose. Today in Austin, a joint panel of senators and representatives continued looking into the effects of that move. That panel, the legislative Oversight Committee on Higher Education, spent yesterday afternoon hearing from universities on why tuition rates are going up more rapidly than many expected.
Committee members asked about one of those effects, a tuition hike of up to 41% at the University of Houston. UH President Dr. Joy Gogue, said that his institution is in the unusual position of having a very high number of non-traditional students that are working while they attend school and may take a long time to earn their degrees. He testified that a third of the increase went to fellowships and scholarships for low-income students, with much of the rest going to staff salaries and higher insurance costs due to damage from Hurricane Alison and to make up for cuts imposed by the legislature.
Committee member Fred Brown commented that regarding the increases, he "didn't think we've heard a straight answer either today or yesterday", to which Committee co-chair Florence Shapiro commented that it wasn't necessarily the fault of the universities, but rather the system under which they were reporting the numbers. Representatives from the UH campuses at Clear Lake and Victoria reported tuition increases as well, of about $10 dollars per tuition hour. UH Clear Lake President William Staples said his institution had dipped into its reserves to make up shortfalls and UH Victoria Provost Don Smith said that his institution had stopped all pay raises and was sending 20% of its tuition hike to financial aid.
Chancellor Lee Jackson from the University of North Texas System said that his institution continues to grow, even in times of tight money. He said their budget has remained flat, despite the additional students, over the past couple of years. Tuition at the University of North Texas has gone up by seven dollars a semester hour.
President Ann Stuart of Texas Woman's University said they had to manage a five million dollar shortfall at the end of the legislative session. Like other universities, she said TWU reduced its budget, had a one time transfer from permanent funds, with a $15 dollar per credit hour tuition increase making up the difference.
The Legislative Oversight Committee on Higher Education is co-chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Geanie Morrison. Members include Senators Kip Averitt, Robert Duncan, Kyle Janek, Royce West and Judith Zaffirini. Members from the House of Representatives include Fred Brown, Tony Gooslby, Roberto Gutierrez, Lois Kolkhorst and Sylvester Turner. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.