With increased state funding, Lamar State colleges will cut tuition by a quarter

The Legislature gave a $17.3 million funding boost to the two-year colleges, which are part of the Texas State University System.

The technology center at the Lamar Institute of Technology in Beaumont.

Students attending Lamar State colleges will see a marked reduction in their tuition costs starting this fall, averaging a one-quarter cut, or about $760 a semester, across the three southeast Texas campuses.

The tuition cuts were announced at a Beaumont press conference Wednesday, more than a month after lawmakers infused the schools with an additional $17.3 million in state funding, according to Texas State University System documents. The system's board of regents approved the reduction last week.

“It will be very big for students in this area,” said Betty Reynard, president of Lamar State College — Port Arthur. “For some students, it will give them an opportunity to go to school when maybe they haven't been able to. For other students, it's going to mean less of a financial burden for them, which means lower incidence of debt when they graduate from school.”

Part of the Texas State system, the Lamar State schools are the only two-year colleges in the Beaumont area. They have strong relationships with local industries, like those for maritime, health care and petrochemical fields, and many of their students take technical courses that translate immediately to the workforce, school officials said. Other students transfer to four-year universities after completing their education at the two-year Lamar schools.

But the three institutions have an unusual funding model. Unlike community colleges — which also offer two-year programs — the Lamar schools cannot levy local property taxes. They instead rely only on the budget and students for revenue, and their tuition has been far higher than that charged by the state’s community colleges, which have derived more than 40% of their funding from property taxes.

The proposed tuition and fees for the fall 2019 semester were set at $2,899 for the Lamar Institute of Technology; $2,685 for Lamar State College — Orange; and $3,056 for Lamar State College — Port Arthur. They have been reduced, respectively, to $2,200, $1,995 and $2,166; the discrepancies are due to campus-specific fees, like for an athletics program or medical center.

Tuition and fees charged at Texas community colleges averaged $1,395 last spring for in-district students, according to data from an association that represents them. At the 10 Texas State Technical College campuses, which also provide two-year degrees and certifications, tuition and fees are set at around $3,000 a semester for state residents. The technical colleges are funded using a formula that factors in students’ performance, like the earnings of their graduates. The two-year Lamar schools receive funding using a formula based on hours of class time.

The $17.3 million increase, a priority issue for the colleges’ leaders, was included in the state budget signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in June. Most of the money — $16.5 million — was used for the tuition cuts, according to the system.

“This will allow our students to go to school at a state two-year college at a lower cost and allow us to become more competitive with community colleges,” said Thomas Johnson, president of Lamar State College — Orange. “It will help level the playing field for our students.”

Brian McCall, the chancellor of the Texas State system, said he was grateful for the funding increase and hoped it would not be temporary.

“The funds to operate a college essentially come from the students or the state,” said McCall, a former state lawmaker. “So the state did very much what was the right thing and stepped up, and as a result, we'll be able to lower tuition by, on average, 25%.”

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, joined school officials at the press conference to announce the tuition cuts Wednesday.

"What we're doing today is we shorten the timeline for these students to finish their education. We make sure they'll have less debt when that education is done, and they will get closer to those great job opportunities that are throughout" the region, he said at the event.

Brianna Montijo, a sophomore at Lamar State College — Port Arthur, said the tuition cuts could let her work fewer hours while attending school. She has been holding two jobs while working toward an associate's degree in business administration.

"Being able to reach that number of payments was kind of tough for me," said Montijo, who hopes to transfer next fall to Sam Houston State University or Texas State University. Now, "I'll be able to use some of the money I make for myself and to start saving up for my next step."

The Texas State system regents also cut the costs paid by dual credit students to $50 per semester credit hour. Currently, the two-year Lamar schools charge between $75 and $110 per semester credit hour, and a typical course is three of those units.

Disclosure: The Texas State University System has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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