• College administrators, representative discuss college affordability

    Four college administrators and a U.S. representative discussed ways to control the cost of college.

    Guy Bailey, president of UT Rio Grande Valley, Gregory Fenves, president of UT-Austin, Renu Khator, chancellor of the University of Houston System and president of the University of Houston and U.S. Representative Eddie Johnson (D-Texas) spoke on the panel “Price vs. Cost. vs. Value” at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday.

    Johnson said education is an investment that allows individuals to become self-sufficient and not rely on government welfare.

    “It is much less expensive to educate than to incarcerate,” Johnson said. “If they’re not educated and don’t have a skill, we still have to take care of them. That’s when you get more money spent in Medicaid or whatever programs you have. The only way you can diminish those programs is to give the young people some type of work or skills to take care of themselves.”

    Fenves said finishing college on time is just as important, as tuition rates or other affordability issues.

    “When I came to Texas seven years ago, I was shocked by the low graduation rates,” Fenves said. “We should be designing our curriculum to be completed in four years, making sure services are there for students to get the help that they need. The best way to control the cost of higher education is to keep a four-year degree from becoming a five-year degree.”

    Khator said lower costs must not decrease the quality of education.

    “You need to have education accessible for as many people as possible,” Khator said. “At the same time, you need to have that excellence that is the absolute best in the world that you can have. We do not want to settle for mediocre.”

    According to Khator, college should be seen as a collective good, not just an individual benefit.

    “It would be absolutely wonderful if we treated education or a college degree as a common good,” Khator said. “It’s good for society and therefore, society should invest in it.”

  • Activists debate gun rights expansion, constitutional carry

    Tempers flared at an open carry panel Saturday when one panelist argued for the expansion of gun rights in Texas to include constitutional carry during the 2015 Texas Tribune Festival.

    After the 84th legislative session ended in May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed two hotly debated expansions of gun rights into state law on June 13 after both campus carry and open carry passed the House and Senate. While most gun rights activists heralded the new laws as a monumental win for their side, other activists argued for even further expansions.

    “I’d like to see us become a constitutional carry state,” Christopher “C.J.” Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas, said. “Right now, the only people being prevented from carrying are law-abiding citizens who either can’t afford or don’t want a license. Criminals are going to carry anyway.”

    Grisham is currently running for the Republican nomination in Senate District 24 after state Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) announced his retirement in early June.

    Although she said she is a supporter of the Second Amendment and a licensed carrier, Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) disagreed with Grisham, saying she doesn’t understand the need for expanding gun rights any more.

    “I don’t think that I have to expose it, that I have to wear it on the outside,” Alvarado said. “What’s wrong with what we have now?”

    Overall, Grisham said he was offended by the discussion on open carry and compared the requirement of Concealed Handgun Licenses to the gold stars of David used to identify Jewish individuals during the Holocaust.

    “Why are we going to identify a segment of law abiding citizens with some sort of outward identification?” Grisham said. “Let’s make felons wear those, let’s make child molesters wear those. … I just want to go about my business, I don’t want to draw attention to me.”

    Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) questioned Grisham on where to draw the line on expanding gun rights and said Texans seem to like the way Texas currently handles the issue.

    “I think some people say they like the way Texas is, they like to know that someone has gone through training,” Springer said. “[What line] do we draw the constitution at? Does that mean my 15-year-old daughter can take my gun to school?

    As an unelected official, APD Chief Acevedo argued that people who support gun rights must learn to not push too hard or they could see a backlash at the polls.

    “The Second Amendment is just that,” Acevedo said. “There will come a point of no return where there is a process where that amendment can be changed by the will of the people of this country. People don’t vote, there will come a time when they feel motivated to when enough blood is shed in our country.”

  • Panelists discuss higher ed funding

    The funding of higher education dominated a panel discussion among public officials during an event Saturday at the fifth annual Texas Tribune Festival.

    Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, State Reps. Donna Howard and John Zerwas and State Sens. Kel Seliger and Royce West discussed college funding and graduation rates Saturday.

    West said the Texas legislature must provide more funding to public universities to keep tuition rates down.

    “We have to do our best to make certain we provide the resources for higher education without making it so burdensome on the families,” West said. “There’s still a gap, if you will, in providing the financial aid necessary.”

    Standardized expectations for college-readiness need to be developed in collaboration between secondary schools and higher education to decrease the amount of developmental classes students need to take before beginning their degree plans, Paredes said.

    “For some reason, universities, colleges and public high school systems cannot get on the same page,” Paredes said. “We still spend too much money on remediation for courses to make certain students prepared to go to the next level.”

    Zerwas said the costs for the Hazlewood exemption — a program that provides tuition exemptions to veterans and their qualified dependents — needs to be better communicated to regents so veterans get the benefits they deserve.

    “We budget money for the Hazlewood exemption, but does not come close to the costs it has blown out of proportion for,” Zerwas said.

    Paredes said Texas must place an emphasis on sending high school graduates to college and ensuring they graduate on time, even as universities become emerging research centers.

    “We send about 50 percent of our high school graduates onto higher education, but the states with the best-educated send about two-thirds of their high school graduates,” Parades said. “Our completion rates are [also] still not where they need to be.”

  • Chancellors discuss campus carry, tuition costs at higher education panel

    Campus carry and the cost of higher education dominated a panel discussion between four Texas university system chancellors Saturday.

    “I was not in favor of the bill, but having said that, now that the law has passed, our responsibility is to make sure that we carry out the law, not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law,” UT System Chancellor William McRaven said. “There were some second and third order effects that were unanticipated, but we’re working through them.”

    McRaven, Texas Tech Chancellor Robert Duncan, University of North Texas System Chancellor Lee Jackson and Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall spoke as members of the panel “Chancellor Confidential” at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday.

    Jackson said he thought campus carry was not as important as other higher education issues.

    “We’ve had arrests on our UNT campus in Denton for illegally bringing weapons on campus in the last decade,” Jackson said. “Not a single one of those arrests has involved a CHL permit holder. So they have apparently obeyed the law more than people who didn’t have the CHL permits.”

    Marjorie Hass, president of Austin College and audience member, said, as a private institution, Austin College will likely opt out of campus carry. Under the campus carry law, public universities must allow campus carry, but private institutions may choose not to implement the law.

    “Nothing in the public debate around campus carry has led our stakeholders to strongly believe that we should change our current policy, which is that handguns are not allowed on our campus,” Hass said. 

    On the subject of tuition, Duncan said rising costs are in part because of lower funding from the state after the economic downturn in 2009. Public universities now receive $9 to $10 less per weighted semester credit hour from the legislature than before, according to Duncan.

    “About 1.4 billion dollars was taken out of the higher education budget,” Duncan said. “That’s where we’ve not been able to catch up. I look forward to the opportunity to work with the legislature to deal with these issues.”

    Funding research and campus growth attracts students to public universities in a competitive academic market, especially at UT-Dallas, according to McRaven.

     “Students want to come to great emerging research universities,” McRaven said. “Make no mistake about it, it costs money to do it right.”

    Natalie Nehls, international relations and government sophomore, said the rising cost of tuition since the 1960s demandsa solution. 

    “No one really has a set solution to what we can do to decrease costs,” Nehls said. “I didn’t feel like there had been anything implemented.”