Mediocrity may become more elusive

In yesterday’s post, I noted how Texas was struggling to obtain mediocrity in one key indicator of the state’s future economic health – access to college educations for our young people. Now, it looks as if mediocrity may be getting farther out of reach.

As reported in today’s Austin AmericanStatesman, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, following the instructions of Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders, has drafted a plan for reducing its budget by 10 percent. And, guess what?

One of the biggest hits would come in student financial aid, a category already underfunded in Texas. The new budget plan would cut financial aid by as much as $108 million during the next biennial budget period.

This is only a recommendation because the final budget will be written by the Legislature next year. But with lawmakers facing a projected revenue shortfall of $18 billion and student financial aid making up most of the Coordinating Board’s budget, students and their families – lowincome and middleincome alike have reason to be concerned.

The need for financial help already exceeds the grants and loans available, and the need will continue to rise, partly because of the economy and partly because of two state policy decisions, which actually conflict with each other.

One policy, dating back to 2000, is a concerted effort by the state to increase college enrollment so Texas can attain parity among the 10 largest states. That goal has been at least partly thwarted by the second policy – the decision by Perry and legislative leaders in 2003 to transfer more of the responsibility for college funding from elected legislators to students and their parents.

Under the socalled tuition deregulation law enacted that year, the cost of attending Texas’ statesupported universities has soared, even as student aid has lagged behind.

As I have noted before, Perry and legislative leaders talk a good game on education. But, dusting off an old cliché, talk is cheap, much cheaper than their commitment to it.


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