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The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have both been in the news recently for decisions made about tuition increases.  Neither of the flagship schools will raise tuition for in-state students, but the system schools for both will see increases. According to this handy list compiled by the Texas Tribune, tuition is up to unprecedented heights at not only the UT and TAMU system schools, but other state schools as well.  The  state’s flagship schools in Austin and College Station attract all the media attention, but tucked away in places like Commerce, Kingsville, the Permian Basin, Alpine, and even in the big cities like Dallas, tuition has been creeping up without making much of a wave.

With the student loan bubble threatening imminent disaster, these ever-increasing tuition prices seem particularly barbaric.  These are schools that were never meant to price out lower-income families; they were supposed to attract them, be a place for students who may or may not have the academic prowess to bleed orange or maroon but certainly didn’t have the cash flow to support it.  Take a look again at that list – the University of Texas at Dallas is now more expensive than the Austin school (and indeed, is the priciest example in the state).  Financial aid is now a compulsory accessory for entering your freshman year, filling out a FAFSA a virtual fish camp activity familiar to all instead of a few.  And these government schools – for that is what they are, higher education agencies of the state – bloat their budgets and hike tuition with impunity because they know the idea of a loan for higher education turns few stomachs.

This cannot continue.  It isn’t really about Bill Powers at UT, however much he has become the focal point for rage over tuition increases.  Why does tuition increase, year after year?  We’re given numerous reasons, usually to do with increasing services or becoming more competitive or helping students graduate in four years.  I’m not sure what good more counselors and guides, smaller class sizes, and an in-and-out diploma will do for a graduate sitting on $44,000 or more of debt, entering an economy that values the degree less and less over time.  The university ought to be a place for truly higher learning, not a diploma mill intent on proving itself efficient at churning out dazed and confused undergrads.

The higher education debt crisis has a great many factors playing into it, most of them coming back to this relatively new idea in society that higher education is a must-have instead of a nice-to-have.  What came first – the market demand for a diploma or the glut of unemployed liberal arts majors?  Regardless, we know there is one factor we can tackle in Texas and it is agreed upon across political divides.  Public university tuition is out of control, and universities need to reign themselves in before the Legislature decides to swoop back in and do it for them.