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Higher education leaders concerned about budget cuts

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Dec. 31, 2010 at 6:31 a.m.

Tom Butler

OTHER BILLS TO WATCHHouse Bill 36: The bill would allow concealed handguns to be carried on university and college campuses.

House Bill 374: The bill would make institutions offer incentives, like tuition assistance or loan repayment help, to teachers who are getting certified to teach bilingual education.

House Bill 104: The bill calls for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to be abolished and all its duties to be handled by the Texas Education Agency.

Legislative preview schedule

Dec. 24: Rep. Geanie Morrison

Dec. 25: Sen. Glenn Hegar

Dec. 26: Nonprofits and the arts

Dec. 27: Transportation

Dec. 28: Healthcare

Dec. 29: Business

Dec. 30: Law enforcement

Dec. 31: Faith

Saturday: Education

Sunday: Immigration

Monday: Environment

Skimpy education budgets are the new-year trend, and higher education institutes are buckling down.

December state cuts already cost Victoria College $170,402 and the University of Houston-Victoria $322,000, and the forecast for January doesn't get brighter.

The two schools already submitted budget requests 10 percent lower than this year's pre-reduced spending plan.

Usually, the trimmed-down plan is only a hypothesis and schools are given more financial wiggle room after actual budget numbers are revealed in January, but this year the skinny budgets could be the reality.

"I think that all of this signals this is a very serious situation," said VC President Tom Butler. "So, we have to take this seriously. We could very well end up where we start off. It could be that bad."

To make the cuts, both schools are buckling down on costs while focusing on increasing enrollment.

"We are doing everything we can to reduce costs," wrote Don Smith, interim UHV president, in an e-mail. "The other side of that is we're working to increase our revenues through growth. Our basic priorities are to continue to fund growth and productivity, and to reduce as necessary funding of activities not immediately related to those goals."

Smith said the school is cutting back on things like travel, professional memberships and sponsorships, but focus won't change for enrollment growth.

"We must maintain our recruitment efforts, and we must provide the instruction and student services necessary to support enrollment growth," he wrote.

Higher enrollment numbers for VC will help the school ride the financial storm, but a detailed plan on what will be trimmed will come later.

"As we get more into the session, we'll have a clearer idea of what's going where and things we would be looking at more closely," he said.

Butler also said community colleges are pushing for the same healthcare benefits for employees.

"We want to make sure community college employees are treated the same as any other employees in terms of healthcare benefits," he said.

Another issue both entities are watching is textbook costs. At least two bills have been filed to try to make books cheaper for students.

House Bill 33 by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, calls for faculty to let students know different venues where they can get the materials, buyback plans and more. The bill also mandates publishers to detail differences between new editions and the three previous versions.

Smith questions if the bill will be effective if passed because books are a smaller education expense.

"It doesn't make economic sense to shortchange the teaching learning process to save relatively small amounts of money compared to the overall expense of getting an education," he said.

Another bill calls for textbooks to be tax-free for weekends at the beginning of both the fall and spring semesters.

"If there's a good idea out there that's going to lower the costs of books for students, then we're in favor of that," Butler said.

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