(news) tuition bills

Public universities in Texas might not have the power to control increases in their tuition costs much longer. If passed, Senate Bill 778 (SB 778) will require all public universities in Texas to meet certain criteria before increasing tuition costs.

Filed by Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the bill defines the 11 “performance measures” established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Some of the measures considered are graduation rates, average length of enrollment required for undergraduate degree completion, administrative costs and the number of degrees awarded to at-risk students. A majority of these performance measures must be met before the universities can increase their tuition costs beyond the inflation rate.

If the performance measures are not met, the bill allows increases in tuition based on the inflation rate, to be determined by the Legislative Budget Board.

The Senate’s Higher Education Committee approved SB 778 with a vote of 5-1 in early April, and the bill is currently on the Intent Calendar for further Senate review.

Seliger believes that the bill addresses the issue of skyrocketing tuition increases, while tying these schools’ finances to their performance.

“If you want to get more money, you’re going to have to give the students measurably more,” Seliger stated in an interview with the Texas Tribune.

Seliger went on to say that the bill’s performance measures are benchmarks that universities must hit in order to raise their tuition costs. Seliger states that one of his goals will be making these benchmarks difficult to achieve.

Since the legislature deregulated tuition in 2003, lawmakers have expressed interest in limiting the climbing costs of tuition by including several tuition bills filed this session.

Similar to SB 778, Senate Bill 233 filed by Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, proposes tuition to be capped at its current levels, and adjusted based solely on the rate of inflation.

The Senate has not yet approved any of the bills affecting public universities’ tuition prices introduced this session. Seliger, however, feels confident that his bill is “the good one,” and will generate future discussion.

Senior communication major Vanessa Solis supports the passage of SB 778.

“I think passing this bill would be a good idea,” Solis said. “With better quality of education comes a higher price. This would (prevent) lower-performance schools from overcharging students.”

Seliger’s bill and similar tuition regulation bills are currently a topic of controversy, with major concerns arising over how much, or if, state funding will increase along with the passage of these bills.

If the Senate passes SB 778, its provisions would take effect in the 2018-2019 academic year.

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