No more money coming, legislator tells universities

Education is investment, not a cost, A&M-Corpus Christi president says

Corpus Christi Caller-Times
August 11, 2004, Wednesday
Monica Wolfson, Scripps Howard Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Lawmakers gave some bad news to state universities Tuesday. The state likely won't have any money next year to restore funds cut during last year's $9.9 billion budget shortfall.

"The committee feeling is there won't be any more money coming from the state," said Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, during a meeting of the Joint Interim Committee on Higher Education.

The committee is working on recommendations that will be submitted to the Legislature.

"The money isn't there and I don't see the economy turning around," Goolsby said.

No other committee member disputed Goolsby's assessment.

Goolsby's comments followed Gov. Rick Perry having asking state agencies, including universities, to prepare budgets with a 5 percent cut. The Legislature meets in January to begin drafting the next two-year budget.

In exchange for budget cuts during the 2003 legislative session, lawmakers deregulated tuition so universities could charge higher rates to offset funding losses.

Twenty-two of Texas' 34 public universities have raised tuition beyond the former $48 per credit hour designated tuition cap for fall 2004, according to state documents. Ten universities will charge below the former cap and two schools will charge $48 per credit hour.

If a university charges above the former $48 per credit hour tuition cap, it must set aside at least 20 percent of the new tuition revenue for financial aid. Most university officials said Tuesday they used the new revenue to increase faculty salaries and hire more faculty.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi expects to top 8,000 in enrollment this fall, said President Robert Furgason. In the fall, A&M-CC will charge $62 per credit hour and Texas A&M University-Kingsville will charge $46 per credit hour in the fall.

At A&M-CC, a third of the increase is for financial aid, a third will pay for new faculty and a third will boost salaries. The remaining $1 increase will fund new laboratory equipment.

"(Lawmakers) have to look at higher education as an investment, not a cost," said Furgason, who testified before the committee Tuesday. "The state of Texas has to come to grips with that."

University tuition will probably increase again in two years if lawmakers don't fund enrollment growth, officials said.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the most important issue for community colleges is finding a way to increase property tax revenue because of declining state funding. A community college's service area is usually larger than its taxing district. Voters have to approve any annexation into a community college's taxing district.

"We suggest all of Texas become part of a community college taxing district," West said.