Higher Education Funding Faces A Triple Threat

Funding from state and federal government is likely to be reduced, and there’s pressure to keep tuition rates from rising, too.

By Rhonda Fanning & Laura RiceMarch 29, 2017 1:29 pm| , , ,

Texas colleges and universities have known that 2017 would be a challenging year – less state revenue, pressure to hold the line on tuition and the like – but some observers are saying the situation could become devastating.

Matthew Watkins of the Texas Tribune says a triple threat to higher education has colleges and universities bracing for what’s shaping up to be a perfect storm.

“There’s three main ways that universities get their money,” Watkins says. “Right now, all three of those sources are in peril.”

Possible cuts in state funding for universities loom on the horizon with a spending bill that’s just passed the senate. The federal government’s proposed budget blueprint doesn’t bode much better for universities – it calls for cuts to organizations such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, both big donors to university research.

Since the legislature gave universities the power to set their own tuition rates, Watkins says increasing this cost to students has helped supplement universities’ incomes when government funding is lacking.

“That’s what’s happened over the past 15 years,” Watkins says. “The per student funding from the state over that time has gone down. And the main way that universities have made up for it is by raising tuition.”

However, Watkins says that source of income is jeopardized by lawmakers who recognize a problem with a 150 percent increase in tuition since the ‘90s.

“We’ve heard a lot from lawmakers over the recent years about a need to freeze tuition or limit universities’ ability to set their own costs,” Watkins says.

This fight has been a bipartisan effort, Watkins says.

“Dan Patrick has been the loudest voice and people see kind of his fingerprints in all these moves,” Watkins says. “There are democrats who have filed similar bills and have made similar complaints as well.”

Although these ideas have been floating around for a while, Watkins says people are becoming more alarmed as actual dollar figures are beginning to be attached to this picture.

Watkins says the bottom line is that if these cuts are put into place is that universities will be forced to consider reductions in service and possible hiring freezes.

“I’ve talked to multiple people from universities who are talking about how this could be the worst legislative session in decades for them,” Watkins says.

As to whether or not it will come to that point, Watkins says it’s still hard to say.

“All these things are still kind of in the air,” Watkins says. “The house maybe might have less of an appetite to freeze tuition or cut funding as much as the senate would like to.”

Morgan O’Hanlon.