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

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 sent to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, Senate Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman, and House Finance Committee Chair Greg Bonnen in mid-December, university presidents asked for more funding from general income, as well as increased funding for employee health insurance. universities and free college tuition programs for veterans of the armed forces 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.

Overall, during the last legislative session, state legislators invested $486 million more in funding formulas than in the previous session, which provide funding for various functions at public universities, medical facilities, and community colleges.

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, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Council, average semester tuition fees at a public university increased by 27% between 2014 and 2021.

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.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

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