Public universities in Texas would have to meet certain performance guidelines before they raise tuition, under a bill that a state Senate committee approved Wednesday.
Filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, Senate Bill 778 would limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation unless universities meet a majority of 11 “performance measures.” Those measures include graduation rates, administrative costs and number of degrees awarded to at-risk students.
Seliger, the chairman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, said the bill achieves two goals. It ties schools’ finances to their performance. And it places checks on tuition increases.
Essentially, he said recently, it ensures “students that if they are going to pay more, they will get more.”
The Higher Education Committee approved the bill in a 5-1 vote with little discussion. It will now go to the full Senate.
The legislation is one of several bills that have been filed this session that would impose new restrictions on tuition increases. Many lawmakers have expressed interest in new limits after steady growth in the cost of college since the Legislature deregulated tuition in 2003.
Seliger’s bill has the support of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said in an interview that it is “a good idea.”
“The coordinating board has been advocating for performance metrics for years,” Paredes said. “I think this bill is workable.”
At the same time the senators were considering the bill, the House Higher Education Committee was discussing stricter tuition rules. They took up House Bill 921, by state Rep. Walter T. "Four" Price, R-Amarillo, which would tie increases in college tuition to the inflation rate.
The measure would prevent universities from setting a higher price than the previous academic year for tuition and other fees paid to the school, adjusted for inflation. State budget officials in January of each year would determine the inflation rate for colleges to use in adjusting tuition.
“This bill answers the call of thousands of parents and students who are struggling with the skyrocketing cost of college tuition and fees in Texas,” Price told the committee.
The bill freezes tuition for the 2015-16 academic year, meaning tuition rates must exactly match the current academic year, except for universities that decided earlier than Jan. 1, 2015, to increase tuition for the next year. Price said he’s working on changing the bill to also freeze fees for the 2015-16 year.
“This change is necessary because we don’t want fees to skyrocket the year before they would be frozen,” he said.
His bill would give students the option to vote to let their university increase certain fees beyond the rate of inflation.
“This is a controversial subject for many,” Price told the committee. He said his bill “is not about regulating, deregulating or reregulating college tuition in Texas.”
Kathryn Kenefick, an employee of the University of Texas at Austin, told the committee that she knows students who are graduating with more than $20,000 in student loan debt.
“It’s difficult for them to have an upward mobility coming out of college with the hobbling of a financial burden like that,” Kenefick said.
“Passage of the bill should go hand-in-hand with increased state funding for universities,” said Andrew Costigan, a doctoral student and teaching assistant at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.
No one testified against the bill, and it was left pending by the committee.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Raymund Paredes is a donor to the Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the number of full-time college students enrolled and the percentage of tenure-track professors teaching lower-level courses were among the “performance measures” included in the bill. Those measures were included in the original bill, but not the version approved by the committee.