Hearing held to discuss tuition set-asides at Texas universities

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate Committee on Higher Education held a public hearing Tuesday morning at the Capitol to review the effectiveness of tuition set-asides, a program mandated by state law which reallocates a portion of a student’s fully-paid tuition to those who need financial aid. 

The session was held in order to hear testimonies from invited witnesses regarding the pros and cons of eliminating set-asides. Since the Top 10 Percent Scholarship and B-On-Time programs were repealed by the state last year, the committee has been looking at ways to fund the financial needs of students.

In the 2013 school year, set-asides helped fund $22 million in grants and scholarships for UT students. 

Some argue the set-aside program is a burdensome tax on college students. 

“There are options beyond adding a surcharge to the already costly price of college tuition,” said John Colyandro, executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. “The amount spent on aid programs funded by set-asides is more appropriately funded by the legislature.”

The Texas legislature has attempted to get rid of tuition set-asides in the last two sessions but were unsuccessful.

Sen. Kirk Watson, member of the Higher Education Committee, does not agree with removing tuition set-asides.

“What we can’t do is forget how we got here,” Watson said. “In 2003 the legislature made a decision to allow the institutions to increase tuition because the members of the legislature decided they didn’t want to vote on appropriations. The decision was made to put the expense on the backs and families and students. I have zero faith the Texas legislature can come up with $345 million [to replace set-asides].”

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved a plan in 2015 to provide 60 percent of Texans between ages 25 and 34 a college education by 2030.   

Raymund Paredes, commissioner of the THECB and supporter of set-asides, said the two biggest issues students face when trying to graduate on time are financial assistance and preparation.

“Tuition set-asides have benefited needy students,” Paredes said. “If tuition set-asides are eliminated and that funding is not replaced by some other mechanism there will [be] a significant impact on accessibility [for education] in Texas.”

Sergio Cavazos, government senior and president of the Senate of College Councils, does not believe that getting rid of tuition set-asides is the solution to solving affordable education.

“I know students that rely on aid from a lot of these grant programs that would be on the chopping block if this decision was made,” Cavazos said. “We will really be sacrificing a lot of the diversity we value by not providing students the assistance they need. I don’t think [getting rid of set-asides] is the solution towards making college more affordable. I think it will be more of a detriment.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wants the Texas Legislature to find a way to fund tuition costs.

 “I have been very clear from the beginning that Texas grants should be funded by the legislature,” Patrick wrote in an email. “Many students and their parents are going into debt to pay for their tuition. If we are not going to protect Texas students and their parents from this hidden tax, we should change the name from Texas Grants to Texas Parents and Students Grants because that is who is funding the program.”