Pricing kids out of college

When you don’t have a solution to a problem, propose a study. Sometimes, a study can be a legitimate, productive approach to problemsolving. At other times, though, a study is simply a way to continue dancing around a problem, and that is the approach the Texas Republican Party is taking to one of the biggest consumer problems facing thousands of Texas families, including many middleclass parents – rising university tuition.

Ever since the Republican leadership – notably thenSpeaker Tom Craddick – forced enactment of the socalled “tuition deregulation” law in 2003, tuition at statesupported universities has soared. That’s because it is no longer set by elected legislators, who are accountable to voters, but by appointed regents. The bill, which Gov. Rick Perry heartily endorsed (and still supports), passed much of the buck for university funding during a budget crisis from the Legislature to students and their families.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White has attacked the high tuition, and the Texas Democratic platform calls for the Legislature to restore the higher education appropriations slashed by the Republicans and roll back tuition and fees to “affordable levels.”

The Republican platform calls for the state comptroller to conduct a “complete review of the tuition deregulation law for the purpose of validating whether it is accomplishing its stated goal.”

Stated goal? I’m not sure there was one, other than to help Republicans close a $10 billion revenue shortfall in 2003 without raising state taxes and to continue to shortchange universities on appropriated tax dollars. Those goals were accomplished, but neither had anything to do with improving higher education in Texas or access to it.

If the goal was to price young people out of college – or force them to enter the work force with mountains of debt – that, too, was accomplished. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, average tuition and fees at statesupported universities increased from an average of $1,934 per semester in fall 2003 to $3,323 in fall 2009. That’s a 72 percent jump, and most of it was because of the tuition increases approved by regents.

Tuition at some universities will be rising even more this fall.

As part of the tuition law, the Legislature also increased financial aid for lowincome students. But lawmakers didn’t provide enough money to meet the demand, and most middleclass young people don’t qualify for the state aid.

Maybe someone should conduct a study of how you can possibly prepare for the future by backing away from it. That would be an imaginative piece of fiction.

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I don’t plan to back away from the future, but I will be backing away from this blog for the next week or so to go on vacation. See you when I get back.


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