Monday, March 28, 2016

Higher Ed

I usually read 2-3 papers as a daily routine.  I find it amazing what you can find in a daily newspaper.  Sometimes I’m amazed that other people have not discovered the same source of information.

Recently, two of the newspapers reported our state leadership, governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature have awakened to the fact that the cost of college has dramatically risen.

When I was chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I am proud of the fact I resisted efforts to have the Legislature release restraints on college tuition.  Unfortunately, after my departure, in 2003 the Legislature decided—in their infinite wisdom—to get the Lege out of the business of setting college tuition and passed the buck to boards of regents of individual colleges. Apparently now some of the legislative leadership have regrets.  Recently, Lt. Governor Patrick wrote college boards around the state urging them to not increase tuition.  Apparently these boards didn’t get the letter, or they ignored it completely.

After turning college tuition costs over to the individual colleges, these same legislative and state leaders seem shocked by the fact college tuition in Texas has reached near the point where college is unaffordable to most middle-class Texas families.  Between 2003, when the Legislature made this mistake, and 2012 college costs increased nationally by a 55%.  In Texas, the growth in costs is 65%.  During this same period of time, while the cost to students was rapidly escalating, the state Legislature reduced their contribution to college funding by 27%.  Governor Abbott is so shocked that he now wants to have a study committee address rising costs of college.  I have news for Governor Abbott, you don’t need a committee, call me—I’ll tell you why.  It’s basic reasoning ... the Texas Legislature has cut Texans short on providing quality higher education for its citizens.

Encouraging and allowing young Texans, or Texans of any age, to better themselves with a college degree should not be considered an expense.  It’s certainly not a wasteful exercise and should be considered an investment.  As a matter of fact, if we do not invest in education, it can easily be said that we, as a state, care little about investing in our future.  As quality higher education diminishes, it will only encourage more low-paying jobs throughout our state, and we already lead the nation in that category.  It does not bode well for young high school graduates who would like to stay in this state, contribute their talents and help gin up our economy.

As the Legislature of late usually does, its leadership continues to look for gimmicks to cure the problem.  Rather than pony-up and spend what is necessary to make college affordable, they continue to waste 800 million dollars on sending state troopers to the border to chase illegal aliens whom the troopers have no authority to even arrest.  Current chairman of the Senate Education Committee Senator Seliger's only proposal, at least published, is that he intends to put pressure on the colleges to graduate college students sooner.  This seems to me to be a counterproductive solution.  The only way to graduate college students sooner is to teach them less.

If the State of Texas invested an adequate amount in developing a highly skilled and educated workforce, forward thinking companies would be more inclined to come to Texas to establish their new enterprises.  It is certainly not very encouraging to read what Representative Zerwas, House Higher Education Chairman, had to say about the solution to the problem.  He said, “I think we will have a much more serious conversation about it.” 

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