With the 84th Legislative Session set to begin today, the chancellors of the state’s six public university systems are taking a unified stance on the need to adequately fund Texas higher education and ensure students have access to a college education.
On Monday, the chancellors from the Texas A&M, Texas State, Texas Tech, University of Houston, University of North Texas and University of Texas systems visited the editorial boards of the Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News to discuss their shared priorities.
“We understand and appreciate the difficulty of writing a budget that addresses all the needs of our growing state,” said Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall. “Our challenge as chancellors is to help legislators understand that Texas enjoys a significant return on its investment in higher education, which is not true of many other parts of the budget.”
McCall currently is chairman of the Texas Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors, which organized Monday’s editorial board visits and which provides a forum for discussing mutual needs and concerns facing public universities in Texas.
The four critical priorities for the upcoming legislative session identified by the chancellors include:
- Restoring formula funding allocations to 2011 rates to address significant student growth
- Designating funds for facilities and capital projects
- Increasing financial aid for students
- Fully funding the Hazlewood Act to cover the cost of tuition for military veterans and their families
The state’s investment in public higher education is critical, the chancellors said, considering the combined economic impact of Texas’ public colleges, universities and health science centers.
Although the Legislature increased formula funding in the 2013 session, the rates at which student classroom hours and classroom space is funded are actually less today than it was in 2003. Additionally, higher education is serving 148,000 more students today than in 2003.
“We need to have a conversation with the Legislature about what investment Texans will make in public higher education. That’s what this legislative session gives us an opportunity to do,” Texas Tech University System Chancellor Robert Duncan said.
In addition, higher education institutions continue to face challenges related to aging facilities and insufficient classroom and lab space. This has limited the capacity of many institutions to expand science, engineering, allied health and other high-demand programs.
The six chancellors also are advocating for increased funding for the TEXAS Grant program to help more low-income students attend college. The successful grant program has played a significant role in “closing the gaps” and increasing access to a college education. In addition, institutions need more flexibility to tailor financial aid to fit the needs of individual students.
The Hazlewood Act also plays an important role in the statewide effort to increase access, but the financial burden is becoming significant for universities. Under the Hazlewood Act, military veterans and their dependents do not have to pay tuition or mandatory fees. The cost to institutions – which is shared by all students – is $169.1 million and is projected to rise to $286.2 million by 2017.
The six chancellors – along with Governor-elect Greg Abbott – are proposing that the Legislature fully fund the Hazlewood Act to reduce the burden on institutions.
“We are looking forward to a productive dialogue with the Legislature regarding the shared priorities that will help meet the needs of Texas students and will keep our universities among the best in the nation,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System.