Statehouse Digest

By: KARIN FISCHER and SARA HEBEL
The Chronicle of Higher Education
April 1, 2005, Friday

RETHINKING TUITION: Just two years after the Texas Legislature voted to give the state's public colleges the power to set tuition, state lawmakers, displeased by hefty rate increases, are moving to take back control. Measures have been introduced in both houses to cap the amount by which colleges can raise tuition, while two bills filed in the House of Representatives would strip the institutions' boards of regents of the authority to set tuition rates. A budget bill passed last week by the Senate Finance Committee contains a provision that would cut state financial support for colleges that raise rates above $94 per credit hour, the current tuition at the University of Texas at Austin.

NEW SECRETARY: New Mexico is in the market for its first secretary of higher education after lawmakers approved a measure that would scrap the state Commission on Higher Education and replace it with a cabinet-level department. Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, who was expected to sign the bill last week, has named Daniel H. Lopez, president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, to lead a search committee for the new position. The secretary will coordinate resources, improve accountability, and articulate statewide goals, but will not interfere with the powers of the boards of regents of each university to make budgetary and academic decisions.

STUDENT-AID OFFER: Jim Barksdale, a former chief executive of Netscape Communications and an alumnus of the University of Mississippi, has offered to provide a total of $50-million to state residents who stay in school and go on to graduate from college. Under his offer, a student could receive up to $10,000 by earning a college degree. But there is a catch: Mr. Barksdale said he would offer the money only if state lawmakers set aside enough funds to fully finance the legislative formula that spells out how much state aid Mississippi's school districts should receive.

CAPPING INSTITUTIONAL AID: State senators in Arkansas have unanimously passed legislation that would prevent public colleges from using more than 30 percent of tuition and fee revenues to pay for scholarships. Proponents of the plan, which now goes to the House of Representatives, said they wanted to limit how much colleges raise tuition for all students in order to offer discounted rates to a few.

BOOKSTORE EXCLUSIVITY: Lawmakers in Nebraska are weighing in on a debate among bookstores near the University of Nebraska's Lincoln campus. The dispute involves students' ability to use their campus ID cards like credit cards at the university's two bookstores, charging some expenses to their end-of-semester bills. Students cannot use the same identification cards at another, independent bookstore near the campus. State Sen. Chris Beutler and some of his colleagues argue that the restriction is unfair to the independent store and hinders students from shopping for the best deal. They are pressing legislation that would prohibit the university from accepting the cards at its own bookstores if it does not let students use them at bookstores elsewhere.

TUITION AUTHORITY: Idaho's Legislature agreed to a bill last week that would allow Boise State University, Idaho State University, and Lewis-Clark State College to charge tuition. Idaho law now prohibits its public colleges from doing so, allowing them only to bill students for fees, which can be used to pay for maintenance, utilities, and other noninstructional costs. The University of Idaho would continue to be prevented from charging tuition, since its fee-only restriction is spelled out in the state's Constitution.

OPERATING FLEXIBILITY: Marshall University and West Virginia University are asking state lawmakers to approve a 36-month pilot project that would give the institutions more control over setting tuition and fees and making decisions about purchasing and capital improvements. University leaders argued that the Legislature shouldn't micromanage all the details of billion-dollar entities, down to such decisions as the size of fines for violations of campus-parking rules. The Senate's Education Committee agreed to the plan last week.

LIMITS ON CONTRACEPTION: A Wisconsin lawmaker is drafting legislation that will seek to prevent clinics that serve the University of Wisconsin System from giving birth-control pills to students. Rep. Daniel R. LeMahieu, a Republican, argued in March that allowing distribution of the pills promotes promiscuity. He said he was upset to learn that the health clinic on the Madison campus had taken out newspaper ads to urge students to get advance prescriptions for the medication before leaving on spring break.