Day: <span>January 6, 2015</span>

The privatization of public universities


States, including Texas, are increasingly taking the “public” out of public universities, according to a new study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO doesn’t necessarily characterize its findings that way. The government study determined that students and their families now pay public colleges and universities more in tuition than states do in tax revenue. And, I would argue that this buck-passing is becoming a form of privatization.

You can read more about the study by clicking on the link to a Houston Chronicle article at the end of this post. Nationwide, state funding for public colleges increased by 12 percent between 2003 and 2012, while median tuition at the schools jumped by 55 percent during the same period, the study determined.  In 2012, tuition accounted for 25 percent of public colleges’ revenue, while state funding accounted for 23 percent.

“These (tuition) increases have contributed to the decline in college affordability as students and their families are bearing the cost of college as a larger portion of their total family budgets,” the GAO report pointed out.

The study didn’t compare Texas to the national findings, but it did discuss tuition deregulation, the policy that the Texas Legislature enacted in 2003 to allow university governing boards to set tuition independently of legislative control. Since then, a student’s average cost to attend a state school in Texas has more than doubled to $3,951 a semester.

While a legislative majority has persisted in under-funding higher education for the past 12 years, appointed university regents – who don’t have to answer to voters – have repeatedly raised tuition to cover the funding gap.

Some Texas legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, want to change the law to re-impose legislative control over tuition, but I am not overly optimistic that will happen this session. The responsibility for state university funding ultimately belongs to the Legislature, but many lawmakers have been content to pass the buck and let regents take the blame for tuition increases.