Affordability and accessibility in higher education are key issues for Texas’ 87th legislative session.
Nearly 100 higher education bills have been filed in the months leading up to the start of the session. Among the bills, several focus on limiting tuition and fees as well as maintaining the same course numbers across institutions.
Senate Bill 235, authored by Sen. Charles Schwertner, calls for higher education institutions to limit increases in fees.
According to SB 235, fees should not exceed the amount that was charged for the 2020-21 academic year unless it is voted on by the students. Nevertheless, the bill would allow increases because of inflation.
Authored by Sen. Cesar Blanco, Senate Bill 167 intends to limit tuition charged by public higher education institutions.
The total amount of tuition charged in an academic year should not exceed the total amount of tuition that was charged for the 2021-22 academic year, according to the proposed bill.
But, the tuition can be increased if a student has a change to their residency, degree program, course load or level and other circumstances, according to SB 167.
House Bill 811, which was authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, focuses on course numbering.
The bill calls for institutions to adopt a “core curriculum” that is less than 42 semester credit hours. The credits are intended to easily transfer by standardizing course numbers across the state’s public education institutions.
If a student completes a “core” course, its credit may be transferred to any other institution that offers a course with the same course number, according to the bill.
University of Houston-Victoria President Bob Glenn said the focus for the institution is on local budget priorities.
Those budget priorities include to preserve downward expansion, campus development and restoration of 5% cuts to general revenue appropriations.
In the fall of 2011, UHV began receiving downward expansion funding in an effort to expand academic offerings in the region to freshman and sophomore students.
“That initial appropriation has already been cut by $900,000 per year since first receiving the appropriation and, because of a budget rider in the 86th legislative session, is scheduled to be reduced further in the next biennium,” Glenn said. “The university continues to add freshman and sophomore students at an impressive rate, but by no means can (we) continue this expected growth without continued investment of the legislature through a downward expansion special item.”
Restoration of the 5% cuts to general revenue appropriation is also a focus, Glenn said. State budget regulations were implemented in the summer of 2020 because of COVID-19. The cuts required the university to reduce its general revenue-related expenditures by $415,984 per biennium.
“While this cut is relatively small as compared to other larger universities, these reductions were coupled with losses in university revenues in several auxiliary services,” Glenn said. “Not only did we receive a cut to formula funding, but also a further cut to downward expansion, the nursing program and institutional enhancement.”
Another focus, Glenn said, is campus development through tuition revenue bonds.
The funds will be used to construct facilities for health-related programs, engineering programs, STEM programs and a lecture hall/multipurpose building.
“We are looking forward to the coming session but not in regard to any particular legislation,” Glenn said.