Hi 81 / Lo 73
|Volume 70, Issue 113,
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Tony Hernandez Jim Parsons
Lawmakers struggle to contain tuition monster
Like the fateful Dr. Frankenstein, the state of Texas could only sit back and watch in trepidation as the monster it created -- tuition deregulation -- wreaked havoc on higher education in the last two years. Now, the villagers are assembling and drawing up plans to subdue and contain the beast.
Three bills have been filed in attempts to set some kind of cap on how much tuition can increase. The most heavily discussed thus far is a bill authored by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, which would put a $94-per-semester-credit-hour cap on designated tuition, which is already the rate for The University of Texas at Austin. The bill would punish schools that increase tuition beyond the cap by pulling a certain amount of its state funding, which would likely only create the need for more tuition or fee hikes.
Annual increase caps of 5 percent and 3 percent proposed by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, respectively, would be more flexible, allowing tuition to increase more gradually. Both lawmakers have also filed bills that would take back tuition-setting powers.
It would seem counterintuitive for the government to put caps on what's supposed to be a deregulated system. If legislators aren't happy with the result of deregulated tuition, they should endorse the bills that would take tuition control away from university regents.
One of the arguments supporting the practice is that university boards are more intimately aware of each institution's needs and thus should make a better decision about tuition. What's happened in practice is that tuition has skyrocketed, in some cases increasing by as much as 50 percent in two years. The question that needs to be asked, and answered is, why? If schools are simply trying to meet their needs, why are students bearing more of the cost? The other side of university costs -- fees -- often outpace, tuition, but this issue never reaches the Capitol; why?
Accountability is what a deregulated system needs, not arbitrary caps and threats. Put the monster on trial; then come to a judgment about whether tuition deregulation is good for Texas.
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