Public university systems vow to freeze tuition fees in exchange for $1 billion

The leaders of Texas’s six largest university systems want lawmakers to funnel nearly $1 billion into higher education as the Legislature considers what to do with the state’s $32.7 billion surplus.

In exchange for additional public funding, the system’s chancellors are promising to keep tuition flat at their schools for all students for the next two years.

According to a copy obtained by The Dallas Morning News, six system leaders laid out a series of investment proposals to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, and two legislative budgeters in a December letter.

Texas budget surplus soars to $33 billion, spurring demand for tax cuts and one-off “investments”

Chancellors who signed the letter include James Milliken of the University of Texas; John Sharp of the Texas A&M University System; Michael R. Williams of the University of North Texas System; Renu Hathor of the University of Houston; Tedd Mitchell of the Texas Tech University System; and Brian McCall of the Texas State University System.

Phelan declined to comment, while other politicians to whom the letter was addressed did not respond to The News.

Soaring costs due to inflation, supply chain delays and a shortage of skilled labor are weighing on universities as they try to provide “more personal, hands-on support and technology services to meet the needs of today’s students,” the rectors said.

They stressed that students need counseling, tutoring and mental health services in addition to high quality education to ensure retention and graduation.

School systems are mainly funded by government support, as well as tuition fees and tuition fees.

To “ensure affordability” and avoid increasing costs for Texas families, system leaders have requested about $352 million, or nearly 7% more, in money distributed under the funding formula for tuition, campuses, or university buildings and research.

In the last session, lawmakers created a program to send extra money to regional public universities and provided such schools with federal funding for one year. The Chancellors are now offering an additional $80 million investment in these schools that will provide two years of funding “to help at-risk students graduate and go to work.”

The chancellors also asked the state to help fund the Hazlewood Legacy Program, which offers free education to qualified Texas military veterans and their families.

In 2021, institutions waived $176.4 million in spending on qualified veterans and their children. However, according to the letter, the state reimbursed them only 13% of this cost.

To avoid “unreasonable punishment of students who pay tuition” and to ensure that there is no funding shortfall each biennium caused by such spending, they proposed that the state fully reimburse schools for approximately $276 million for the program.

Finally, the chancellors want the state to cover most of their employees’ health insurance costs, with an additional $290 million for such expenses.

The letter concludes that while the proposal is only for universities, systems with health-related institutions also require a similar increase in their funding formulas.

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and discussion of pressing educational issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative supported by The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottie Lyle, Texas Community Foundation, Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Didi Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solution Journalists Network , Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab’s journalism.

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