Higher education leaders hope to avoid funding cuts in next legislative session

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

Jan. 3, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 3, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.

As the next legislative session approaches, area higher education institutes are looking to pitch their best fund allotments to the state.

Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, pre-filed the first 30 Senate bills of the 83rd Texas Legislative Session set to start Tuesday.

Among her laundry list of bills is SB 26, which would authorize higher education institutions to fund capital projects using revenue bonds. The bill struck a critical tone in the University of Houston-Victoria's future funding forecast.

If the bill passes, it could mean more avenues of funding for the extension campus, which hit a record number of enrollees this past semester.

University President Phil Castille said he hopes to acquire the funding needed to support the growth in on-campus student enrollment.

"Success at downward expansion is going to be a costly venture," Castille said. "We have to provide much in the way of student life to support incoming freshmen and sophomores."

Wayne Beran, the university's vice president for administration and finance, said the administration is looking at acquiring two more buildings by fall 2014.

"We'll be out of space soon," Beran said. "We're asking for funding to continue our growth."

In the 2011 legislative session, the university made a request for $6 million in funds to expand into a four-year degree program.

It ended up with $4.2 million instead.

"While that was certainly welcome, the work is not done," Castille said.

In the next session, they hope to regain the remaining $1.8 million lost in negotiations two years ago.

Long term, the university has projected $88.5 million in funds needed to support its growth over the next 20 years.

House Bill 25, filed by Dan Branch R-Dallas, calls for performance-based funding recommendations for universities.

Victoria College President Tom Butler said community colleges have advocated for a performance-based funding structure for several years.

The legislature would consider such things as the number of degrees and certificates awarded, the number of students who transfer and the number of students who successfully complete developmental courses that make them college-ready when considering how community colleges are rated, Butler wrote in an email.

The college president said the Texas Association of Community Colleges is requesting 10 percent of its state funding to be based on performance.

"I believe Victoria College would do very well under such a plan," Butler said.

Castille echoed Butler's sentiments with a more pressing tone regarding the proposed rating categories put forth by the Dallas representative.

The current version of the bill does not have a category that fits the university's mission of expansion, said Castille.

He said he feared losing funding to research-based campuses.

"We're happy to provide the public evidence that we're growing their facilities to the best of our abilities," Castille said. "But all I ask for is the opportunity to compete."

At least 60 percent of students at the University of Houston-Victoria are first in their families to attend college and 45 percent are Hispanic, he said.

"Part of our mission is to make access to education attainable for all," Castille said. "The lion share of students we get are at-risk students."

Overall, Castille said, he hopes the cuts to higher education from the state are slim.

"Our state funding is a blanket that is already too small," Castille said. "Instead of shrinking it, Texans should support its growth."

Butler lamented previous cuts to community college funding in the last session.

"Funding to community colleges for health insurance was cut drastically," Butler said. "Our request is that the funding be restored in stages over this legislative session and the next session."

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