Dan Patrick’s tuition proposal harms students most in need of help

Josephine MacLean

Interactive by Junyuan Tan, Daily Texan Staff

If Texas’ funding for higher education is the Titanic, then Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has announced he wants to throw a few lifeboats overboard to make room for more passengers. Lt. Gov. Patrick has suggested that set-aside tuition grants, given to students in the form of Texas Public Education Grant (TPEG) awards, should be done away with.

Every year, 15 to 20 percent of statutory tuition costs is set aside to provide TPEG awards to lower-income students.

“During the 2015/16 academic year, over 7,500 undergraduates received some financial aid funded, at least in part, from funds from tuition set-aside dollars,”  Joey Williams, UT interim communications director, wrote in an email.

Lt. Gov. Patrick claims cutting TPEGs would result in a 20 percent drop in tuition costs “like that.” But that’s not necessarily true. In fact, without the grants, most middle-class families would find it more difficult to pay for college. At UT, ending set-asides would lower tuition per student by about $722, but it would annihilate $4,725 in aid for lower-income students.

Hispanic students, already an underrepresented class at Texas universities (UT’s fall 2015 profile says 19.5 percent of students are Hispanic while the state of Texas is about 38 percent Hispanic), stand to lose the most if tuition grants are ended. About 75,000 grants amounting to around $150 million) went to Hispanic students statewide in 2014.

In an email about the Lt. Governor’s proposal, Charlie Henry, co-director of the UT Student Government state relations agency, said the state can’t have it both ways.

“A majority of students depend on financial aid to attend university and the state needs to understand how vital these programs are for many families. Instead of pushing the cost of these programs onto other students, the state should increase financial aid subsidies,” Henry said.

While this solution is given lip service by Lt. Gov. Patrick, currently there is no plan for how the legislature would actually do this.

Set-asides aren’t the only issue the legislature will be facing when it sets funding for higher education this session.

“We are concerned that this session will be characterized by spending cuts across the board,” Henry said.

Last year the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board introduced the 60X30 Strategic Plan, the goal of which is for 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-old Texans to have completed a form of higher education by 2030. Although the last legislative session resulted in a minute uptick in general funding, both the Top 10 Percent Scholarship and B-On-Time program were slashed.

“UT’s budget used to be funded 45 percent from the state in the 1980s. Now we’re receiving only 13 percent. We’re also welcoming the largest freshman class in UT’s history this year,” Henry explained.

My dad attended UT in 1987 when tuition for in-state students was only $863. My mom told me that it wasn’t uncommon for textbooks to be more expensive than tuition. “No, really, it’s true,” she insisted when I made the face you’re probably making right now.

“We want the state to return formula funding levels back to pre-2009,” Henry said. In 2015, tuition at UT-Austin for in-state residents was $9,806. In 2008, it was $7,670. If you look nationally, Henry’s request isn’t at all unreasonable. In California, undergraduates pay $5,472 a year for in-state tuition.

So if the legislature wants to meet its 60X30 plan goals, they’re going to have to put their money where their mouth is.

MacLean is an advertising sophomore from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.