On Monday, just before the primary election, the University of Texas Board of Regents voted to increase student tuition for the first time in several years. Now Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is fighting back in an effort to keep tuition affordable for Texas students.
In a letter Friday to university presidents and chancellors across Texas, Patrick said that he was “alarmed at reoccurring reports that our state universities have increased tuition or are considering proposals to raise tuition on students.” Patrick cited the tuition increases and “excessive bonus programs” as evidence that state universities have “lost sight of their primary mission to provide a high quality education at an affordable cost to Texas families.”
Patrick noted that the 84th Legislature passed a budget that provided a dramatic increase in funding for higher education.
The letter comes on the heels of a vote by the UT Board of Regents to increase tuition for students across the UT system. UT Chancellor Bill McRaven and a majority of the board supported the tuition hike, while regents Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall, and Brenda Pejovich voted in opposition. Those three regents, appointed by Gov. Perry, have attempted to spearhead conservative reforms in the UT system, but have been opposed by liberal forces connected to House Speaker Joe Straus.
Patrick is demanding that the universities report back to his office and the Senate Higher Education Committee by the end of March with information relating to tuition increases since 2002, as well as data on completion rates and financial aid over that period. Patrick is also asking the universities to provide an overview of their plans to reduce student debt.
“It is discouraging to see Texas higher education institutions seek to increase the financial burden faced by students and their families rather than developing methods to cut institutional costs,” wrote Patrick. “Student debt is already at an all-time high, with students taking longer to complete their degrees and incurring a greater amount of debt each year.”
Patrick has charged the Senate Higher Education Committee with looking at these issues over the interim and that review is likely to spur reform efforts in the coming session.
Time will tell whether Gov. Abbott will join Patrick in his crusade to protect students from high tuition costs and rising debt. The Governor and Lt. Governor have often worked together on conservative reforms, however, Abbott has been responsible for appointing regents who have been hostile to reform at the University of Texas. All three of Abbott’s appointees to the UT Board of Regents supported the most recent vote to increase tuition.