Perry and Powers begin to share similar views on higher education, funding, tuition

Alexa Ura

Funding for higher education makes up almost 13 percent of the state’s budget, and going into the 2013 legislative session UT President William Powers Jr. and Gov. Rick Perry are each expected to be involved in discussions that will influence funding for the next two years.

Powers and Perry agree making a college degree more affordable is a priority both in the higher education community and at the state level, despite dealing with a $555.8 million, 2.5 percent budget cut to higher education in the last legislative session. Perry has said fixed tuition rates are key, but Powers has called for stable state funding to offer students financial stability beyond fixed tuition rates.

Their views fall more in line now than they did in previous months.

Last May, Powers recommended a 2.6 percent in-state tuition hike for the University. The UT System Board of Regents, whose members are appointed by Perry, rejected Powers’ recommendation and instead froze undergraduate tuition at UT-Austin for the next two years while increasing tuition at every other System institution.

To make up for the money the tuition hike would have raised, the regents approved a one-time allocation of $6.6 million from the Available University Fund, allocations available to the regents through a state land endowment, for each of the next two academic years.

In an email to the UT community, Powers said he was disappointed in the regents’ decision and called their one-time allocation a short-term remedy.

“A one-time allocation, however much it might mitigate short-term problems, cannot substitute for stable, recurring, sustainable funding needed to support long-term efforts aimed at student success,” Powers wrote.

Today, it seems Perry and Powers agree on the need to stabilize tuition by locking tuition rates on a rolling four-year basis, which Perry announced earlier this year as part of several higher education proposals to increase Texas college graduates.

“We want to give them the stability, the predictability of ‘Here’s what it’s going to cost you for four years,’” Perry said during a press conference last year.

During his State of the University address in September, Powers had mixed feelings about the governor’s four-year tuition proposal. Stable revenue streams from the state for four years are crucial in this initiative, Powers said.

Perry announced a challenge for higher education institutions to offer bachelor’s degrees for $10,000 or less during his 2011 State of the State address — a challenge Powers does not necessarily think the University should take on.

Nine institutions have created such programs or have announced plans to do so in the near future, including UT-Permian Basin and UT-Brownsville.

In October, Perry said the program has garnered interest in the higher education community and has encouraged universities to develop ways to make $10,000 degrees a reality.

UT-Austin has yet to form a $10,000 degree program.

In September, Powers told The Daily Texan it is important to distinguish the cost of a degree from the University and the price of a degree. Powers said UT degrees cost the University more than they cost students, who often pay $10,000 or less if they receive financial aid.

“We could take the price to zero if the combination of legislative support and philanthropic support were enough,” Powers said. “For the kind of degree that our residential students are getting, that degree costs more than $10,000.”

Outcome-based funding will also be considered at the Capitol. On Nov. 12, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, filed HB 25, supporting an outcome-based funding initiative under which higher education institutions would receive funding based on degree completion.

The proposal is also part of Perry’s higher education initiatives announced earlier this year. Perry proposed 10 percent of a school’s funding should be tied to the number of students who receive degrees.

“Under the existing formula, state funding is based primarily upon the number of students who enroll in the university,” Perry said during a press conference. “Simply put, if a school fails to graduate students, it’ll eventually cost it some funding.”

UT spokesperson Gary Susswein said Powers has been supportive of outcome-based funding.

“He spoke extensively about this a year or so ago when President Obama introduced that into the national dialogue,” Susswein said. “The key, obviously, is to find the most effective and proper measurements to determine outcome and performance.”

Both Powers and Perry have said outcome-based funding also promotes four-year graduation rates — a priority at both the University and state level.

Powers and Perry agree on the subject of prominent research institutions in Texas, including research methods that could be developed at a UT-Austin medical school.

Catherine Frazier, a spokesperson for Perry, said the governor is supportive of a new medical school in the Austin area because it would help enhance Central Texas’ status as a research hub while helping meet health care needs in the area.

Perry has supported research and commercialization of medical, scientific and technological breakthroughs — something the proposed UT-Austin medical school could increase and a notion Powers has also actively promoted.