Senate freezes tuition increase, eliminates mandatory set-asides

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The Texas Senate took action Tuesday to freeze tuition costs for two years and eliminate mandatory tuition set-asides.

Senate Bill 19, authored by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, passed by a vote of 29-2. The bill would prevent institutions from raising the cost of tuition for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years. The bill would also allow institutions to only raise the cost of tuition by 1 percent every year after 2020 if institutions meet a number of performance standards.  

Performance-based tuition increases were originally filed as a separate bill by Seliger, but were incorporated into SB 19 through a committee substitute, or revised version of the bill. A similar bill with performance targets was passed by the Senate last session, but died in the House.

In 2003, the Legislature deregulated tuition turning over control of the cost of tuition to each institution’s’ board of regents. Since then, tuition costs across the Senate have risen by 147 percent, according to a bill analysis by Seliger. Several pieces of legislation including SB 19 have tried to return regulating tuition costs to the Legislature.

While J.B. Bird, UT’s director of media relations, said the University doesn’t weigh in on pending legislation, he said the responsibility of setting tuition prices should stay in the hands of regents.

“Universities are in the best position to understand their budgets and set tuition, and we have demonstrated during the past decade that we will keep UT Austin affordable,” Bird said in an email.
This bill along with Senate Bill 18, another higher education bill, have been named emergency priorities by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Senators voted 20-11 to initially approve SB 18, Tuesday which would eliminate mandatory tuition set-asides. After a final vote expected Wednesday, the bill will go to the House.

The tuition set-aside program was created in 2003 and requires institutions to “set-aside” 15 percent of tuition costs above $46 per credit hour. The money that is set aside goes toward financial aid programs. The average amount of tuition per student that is set aside is $459 annually, according to Raymund Paredes, Texas commissioner of higher education.

Seliger said most student subject to tuition set-asides are taking out loans themselves or working through college to pay this “tax” on top of their own tuition costs.

“It’s important to note that a lot of the individuals paying tuition are students that don’t have a lot of money anyways and to take part of that tuition, essentially increasing their tuition to provide for the set-aside, is not very logical,” Seliger said.  

Bird said in an email that more than half of UT students rely on need-based financial aid. Bird said without the set-aside program and with recent decreases in other financial aid programs such as the TEXAS Grant has been threatened UT’s affordability and accessibility.  
“Losing the ‘set-aside’ and the financial aid that it supports would have a negative impact on thousands of families and put college out of reach for many of them,” Bird said.