Texas’ dwindling investment in higher education means gains left on the table

Caleb Wong

Students sacrifice to get a UT degree everyday. Many students, especially those who must pay their way through school, work many hours outside of class to pay their way through school. And regardless of income, every student has used scratchy one-ply toilet paper in the restroom to save the University from shelling out for “premium quality product[s].” 

Paying tuition, though, should not overburden students and their families. At best, it’s a necessary evil that funds the University so that students can take classes — and at its worst, it prevents deserving low-income students from coming to the 40 Acres in the first place. To bolster Texas’ economy and keep deserving students in college, the Legislature should give more funding to public universities during this legislative session.   

Scant higher education funding from the state has increased financial burdens on students as shown by recent tuition hikes. Back in the 1984-1985 academic year, the state funded 47 percent of UT’s budget. Over three decades later, the 2014-2015 academic year budget shows that state revenue accounts for 12 percent of UT’s support. In recent years, the state has restored some of this funding, but nowhere near the levels in the halcyon days of the 80s. 

That’s a mistake — and it costs Texas economic productivity in the long run if higher education funding is not increased. According to a 2015 report, every dollar on higher education boosts each Texas graduate’s future income by $3.50. And every dollar spent by Texas taxpayers to support state colleges and universities creates a return of $6.40 in taxes and added benefits. Overall, that’s $143.9 billion created in economic value for the state.

Yet Lt. Governor Dan Patrick wants to eliminate set-asides — tuition money spent on financial aid — without a compelling alternative, especially given the state’s history of underfunding public universities. This harms many minority students who can’t afford to come to UT in the first place, those who work the hardest inside and outside the classroom to pay their own way through college. 

Even modest tuition increases hurt students. Some must take out more unsubsidized loans, and others might even be forced to drop out. Especially for students already on a tight budget, a couple hundred dollars in increases could force them to work more hours outside of class, decreasing critical study time.

Not funding higher education more undercuts the University and the state’s goal of ensuring students from all backgrounds have access to Texas public universities. We can’t just get underrepresented students in the door. They also have to graduate on time, and financial support is crucial to them meeting that four-year target to get through school. 

Not cutting tuition set-asides for students with financial need would be a start — but the Legislature shouldn’t just keep  funding at current levels. They should restore higher-
education funding to much higher levels to increase graduation rates for all students and for the sake of the Texas economy.

Wong is a Plan II and government junior from McKinney. He is an associate editor. Follow him on Twitter @caleber96.