Legislative funding does not match enrollment increases, system hopes for more

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The UT regents officially named James Milliken as the next UT System chancellor Monday afternoon. He will start his position on September 17.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

University funding from the Texas legislature has not kept up with enrollment growth, and the UT System is trying to change that going into the 2019 legislative session. 

Chancellor James Milliken spoke at a Legislative Appropriations Request Hearing last week and requested more formula funding, a support mechanism the legislature gives to all Texas academic and
medical institutions. 

“Formula funding is our top priority,” Milliken said at the Sept. 24 hearing. “As you know, it has not kept pace with either enrollment growth or inflation in recent years, and we ask that the Legislature consider restoring this critical investment in Texas’s future.” 

Formula funding assigns values to courses based on how much money it takes to execute them, said Emily Deardorff, UT System’s assistant vice chancellor for government relations. 

“The idea (is) the more hours that a student takes, the more money they generate for the institution to help pay for those educational costs,” Deardorff said.

Courses are divided by academic field and ascribed different weights depending on how much money it typically takes to execute a given course, Deardorff said. 

“Different semester credit hours, depending on the type of course, are weighted differently,” Deardorff said. “A lower level liberal arts course doesn’t take as many resources or funding to teach as an upper level science lab course.”

Deardorff said the weight values are calculated by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), which calculates the weights and funding rates for all institutions in Texas. 

Karen Adler, System director of media relations, said the System submits its funding recommendations to the THECB, which then submits them to the Legislature for consideration. 

“Representatives from UT System institutions participate in the Formula Advisory Committee each interim, which submits formula funding recommendations to the Higher Education Coordinating Board for consideration,” Adler said in an email. “The final recommendations approved by the Coordinating Board … are submitted to the Legislature.” 

Formula funding was at a high point in the 2010–2011 biennium, but it slowed down after the effects of the 2008 national financial crisis hit, Deardorff said. 

“After the financial crisis, and having less money available in the legislation, the rate took a very large cut in the 2012–2013 session,” Deardorff said. “Since then, it hasn’t been able to recover to levels seen previously.” 

Meanwhile, enrollment in UT institutions has consistently increased, going from 194,199 in 2007 to 235,780 in 2017, according to UT System data. 

“While enrollment has increased generally overall, the rate at which those semester credit hours are funded has declined,” Deardorff said. “So you’re getting less bang for your buck from the legislation per credit hour.” 

The lack of funding puts more burden on institutions to make up for funding loss and often results in increased tuition for students, Deardorff said. 

“Even though the state doesn’t provide that funding, UT-Austin still needs to provide educational services for students, so it just increases that burden for the institution,” Deardorff said. 

While they do not know what the outcome for funding will be, the System is hopeful as the upcoming legislative session approaches, Deardorff said. 

“This is a top priority for our chancellor and all of our institutions,” Deardorff said. “We’re hoping for the best.”