Texas

Texas universities are offering to suspend education for two years in exchange for nearly $1 billion in additional government funding.

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As Texas lawmakers ponder what to do with the state’s unprecedented $32.7 billion surplus, leaders of the state’s six largest public university systems are proposing nearly $1 billion for higher education.

If the legislators agree, these university presidents are committed to maintaining flat tuition fees for all undergraduate students for the next two academic years.

In a letter to Lieutenant Governor Dan PatrickSpeaker of the House Dade PhelanChairman of the Senate Finance Committee Joan Huffman and Chairman of the House Finance Committee Greg Bonnen in mid-December, university presidents demanded an increase in funding from general income, as well as an increase in funding for health insurance for university employees and a program that provides free college education to military veterans and their children.

“Our educational mission is funded almost entirely by two sources of funding: government support and student tuition,” the letter, which The Texas Tribune received on Tuesday, said. “Without an increase in government support, Texas schools must look for additional efficiency and then tuition and fees to be able to continue to maintain high quality education. To save tuition fees for our students and their families, Texas universities are committed to increasing public investment.”

The letter was signed by six provosts: James Milliken of the University of Texas System, John Sharp of the Texas A&M University System, Renu Hathor of the University of Houston System, Michael R. Williams of the University of North Texas System, Tedd Mitchell of the Texas Tech University System, and Brian McCall of the Texas Tech University System state university.

None of the Texas lawmakers to whom the letter was sent immediately responded to requests for comment.

In the letter, the chancellors argue that today’s students need more practice and counseling, increased mental health support and better technology services at a time when “inflation, supply chain delays and a shortage of skilled labor” are creating problems.

The chancellors have requested a nearly 7%—$352 million—increase in the money allocated under the funding formula for tuition, university buildings, and research, arguing that the state needs to increase overall funding on top of enrollment growth. In the last legislative session, lawmakers added $380 million to the two-year state budget at the last second to fully fund student enrollment growth.

In general, during last legislative session, State legislators invested $486 million more in funding formulas that fund various functions at public universities, health-related institutions, and community colleges compared to the previous session.

But funding per semester credit-hour, which the Legislature uses to determine how much money a public university receives based on class type and enrollment, has continued to decline since 2008. Back then, universities were getting $59.02 per weighted credit hour. Last session, lawmakers approved a weighted credit hour of $55.65 for a two-year period.

Meanwhile, average tuition per semester and fees for a full-time student Between 2014 and 2021, the number of students at the state university increased by 27%, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Council.

The chancellors also offered the state $80 million in funding for regional universities, which include schools such as Texas A&M International University in Laredo and the University of Texas at Tyler in East Texas. In the last legislative session, legislators created a program for additional funding for regional public universities and allocated federal funding to these schools for a year. Chancellors say the extra funding will allow these schools to help at-risk students graduate from college.

The chancellors also repeated a consistent request each session for more public funding for the Hazlewood Legacy Program, which provides free education for qualified military veterans and their families.

Universities waived $176.4 million in 2021 tuition fees for veterans’ children, according to the letter, but the state has reimbursed only 13% of those costs. The chancellors argued that this shifts the cost of the program onto other students who pay tuition and means that even when the state provides the same amount of funding as in previous bienniums, universities start every two years with a funding gap.

They are asking the state to reimburse universities for veterans’ dependents, estimated at $276 million.

Finally, the chancellors are also asking the state to fund health insurance for higher education workers at the same rate as other government employees, at a cost of about $290 million. Currently, the state covers less than 80% of the rate for state employees, the letter says.

The proposal detailed in the letter applies only to universities that are referred to as general education institutions, and not to health-related institutions within those systems. But chancellors say those with health-related institutions in their systems are also demanding a similar increase in funding formulas for those schools.

Disclosure: Texas A&M International University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, Texas Tech University System, Texas A&M University System, Texas State University System, University of Texas System, University of Houston, and the University of North Texas provided financial support to the University of Texas. Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial sponsors play no role in Tribune journalism. Find the complete list them here.

Correction as of January 10, 2023: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that provosts of the university system ask for state tuition fees for veterans and their dependents. They only ask the state to cover tuition for dependents.

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