University Tuitions


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State legislature tries to delay dramatic increase in university cost

The increase in university costs since 2003, when they were deregulated, has been three times that of salaries

Jorge Luis Sierra
Dec. 17, 2008
La Voz de Houston

Published in: Education
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University Tuitions

  1. 1. JORGE LUIS SIERRA JOURNALIST UNIVERSITY TUITION State legislature tries to delay dramatic increase in university cost The increase in university costs since 2003, when they were deregulated, has been three times that of salaries Jorge Luis Sierra Dec. 17, 2008 La Voz de Houston HOUSTON – The progressive increase in the cost of a university education in Houston has surpassed the economic capacity of many low- income students, who have to work, go into debt or interrupt their studies to earn the money they need to return to their classrooms. Iliana Cerda, a student at KIPP Houston High School, says that some of her friends at other high schools “are going to leave 12th grade and they’re going to go to work. They think that because they don’t have money, they won’t be able to study.” Cerda, 17, says that she will have to work to pay part of her university costs because her parents have no money and they haven’t been able to save for her education. However, she believes she’ll be able to get grants to help her. The majority of the more than 3,000 students from the KIPP schools (Knowledge Is Power Program) come from low-income families and are chosen through a drawing. Sixty percent of them are Hispanic. The irony is that KIPP, a network of charter schools, stands out for instilling in its students the objective of going to college. But the more the teachers and counselors push the students to go, the more the rising costs push them away. The economic pressures began in 2003, when the Texas State Legislature approved a law that authorizes public universities to increase tuition at their discretion. “We are leaving many students out of the university; they can’t pay the enormous increases that have taken place,” said Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, author of a bill to go back to regulating the cost of higher education.
  2. 2. From 2003 to this year, the cost of public universities in Texas has increased an average of 53 percent, according to the Coordinating Board of Higher Education, created by the Legislature to support education planning. According to Hinojosa, the rise in tuition “has been three times that of the increase in families’ salaries.” Hinojosa’s proposal In the next legislative session, which begins in January, could come up for discussion, in part because legislators are receiving constant complaints from their constituents. “They call. They write. They send me e-mails,” Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, told the Chronicle several months ago, referring to parents who contact him to complain about the problem. In 2003, legislators agreed that the governing boards of Texas universities, who are appointed by the governor, would set the tuition rates just when the state budget had come in with a $10 billion shortfall. At that time, public funds were cut 2 percent, or $181 million. The idea was that the governing boards would raise tuitions to cover the shortfall. The universities justify the increases, in part, by pointing to the need to recruit and retain outstanding faculty. In May, the University of Houston approved a 5.5 percent increase for the 2008-2009 academic year. The reason, according to a press release from Welcome W. Wilson, president of the governing board: “We are balancing the economic realities of our student body with the resources required to continue providing a high-quality education.” But what might be a benefit for one side is damaging for the other. Jesus Bustos, an architecture student at UH, had to work for a year so he could earn the money to pay for the past semester. “Last year, I worked up to 72 hours a week, and I couldn’t study at all; I rested and I slept,” he said. “When I returned for this semester, I came back very disoriented and behind on the technology.” Bustos had to sell his car to be able to pay for the spring semester of 2009, but he says he might have to quit for another year to save more money. Situations like this have led Hinojosa and a bipartisan group of Texas legislators to propose the bill, which begins with a two-year freeze on the cost of tuition. Then, beginning in 2011, there would be annual increases that correspond with the rate of inflation. For example, Hinojosa compares the 53 percent increase since 2003 with the 12 percent rate of inflation in the same period. He also proposed submitting a referendum to students on a cost increase for some services. Insufficient funds The continuing increases could cause students on scholarships to go into debt. Sara Mendoza, 20, a public relations student at UH, said that the help she received for this semester was not enough to cover her costs: “Yes I have scholarships, but scholarships don’t cover everything. Above all, there’s the books.” Mendoza receives the Academic Achievers scholarship, from the Mexican-American Studies Center at UH, which helps during the four years of the degree program, but even so, she says, it’s not enough. She thought about taking out a loan, “but my sister told me she’d set aside a little money for me.” Federal student grants have increased, but not enough to cover the costs of low-income students, says Joseph Miller, one of the directors of KIPP. “We know that some students are automatically going to have to work.” One symptom of the problem, Miller added, is that many students take two-year programs at Houston Community College and at UH-Downtown because they offer more night and weekend
  3. 3. classes. The study “Measuring up 2008, the National Report Card on Higher Education,” published this month, concludes that low-income students who want to go to college will be obligated to invest 40 percent of their family income. The report, from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, analyzes higher education throughout the country and concludes that Texas is one of the states where it has become least accessible. It shows, according to Lorenzo Cano, sociology professor at UH, that we live in an era when parents “have more education than the young people of today,” something “strange in a postindustrial society” and “very negative for a country like the United States.”