Leader seek end to limits on tuition

Craddick demands deregulation; both chambers to vote today

By Dave Harmon and Michele Kay
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, June 1, 2003

State universities would have free rein to set their own tuition next spring under an agreement reached by lawmakers on Saturday. And the price universities charge for individual classes could vary depending on the subjects and the day and time they are offered. Although both the House and Senate have opposed the move, saying universities would increase tuition beyond the reach of most Texans, House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Gov. Rick Perry pushed to make it happen.

Craddick refused to sign off on the budget without complete deregulation. So the chambers voted Saturday to suspend their rules so they could consider the last-minute change. The bill needs the approval of the full House and Senate today before Gov. Rick Perry can consider it.

Some House Democrats unsuccessfully argued against suspending House rules so a conference committee could make major last-minute changes. They said deregulation would hurt middle-income families who earn too much for financial aid, pushing many students toward cheaper schools or classes. A similar fight happened in the Senate, with similar results.

Tuition deregulation is not a new idea, but it took on renewed life this session after University of Texas System Chancellor Mark Yudof lobbied legislators to give universities more freedom.

Both Craddick and Perry have said it is the right move.

"I have no fear that regents are going to price themselves out of the marketplace," Perry said. "They are going to be reasonable, but they are also going to be able to recoup costs and be able to pay salaries and generate, I think, the type of tuition that makes our schools competitive across the board."

Craddick said lawmakers did not have a choice. He said universities already are laying off staff members and cutting back classes.

"Our senior colleges and junior colleges are bursting at the seams. Classes are full, and they are not teaching as many sections," Craddick said. "They need more resources, but the state does not have the money."

Although Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been lukewarm on the issue, he agreed to support it after Craddick put it on the bargaining table during budget negotiations.

Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, chairwoman of the House Higher Education Committee and author of House Bill 3015 said a House-Senate committee on higher education would study operations and financing of universities starting this year. She wants the study to coincide with deregulation.

"It makes sense to do it when we are studying their finances," Morrison said.

She said lawmakers could revisit the issue next session.

Opponents of the move had wanted to postpone deregulation for two years and in the meantime let universities increase tuition.

Morrison said the deal calls for 20 percent of tuition increases to be set aside for scholarships and other programs. The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University will set aside million for every per credit hour increase in tuition.

"This will go to help the middle-income families," Morrison said.

mkay@statesman.com; 445-3635