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Higher Ed, Higher Pain

The 2011 Texas Legislature chopped more than a billion dollars from higher education, dashing the dream of college for many Texas students. While scholarships disappeared, many campuses were forced to raise tuition costs, a deadly combination for families without the resources to make up the difference.

State legislators slashed more than $121 million from college financial aid programs alone. TEXAS grants, the state’s financial aid program for needy students, now serves 29,000 fewer students than it did previously. College administrators have reported losing highly qualified students to private or out-of-state schools due to the uncertainty surrounding Texas financial aid. Financial aid for professional and vocational nursing was completely eliminated, despite a critical statewide need for these professions.

The legislature also cut 9 percent from Texas colleges and universities, forcing many schools to raise prices for students. Angelo State University hiked student tuition and fees by nearly 10 percent, while Texas Tech students saw an increase of 5.9 percent. The University of Houston System, University of North Texas System and Texas A&M University System all increased student costs as well. The University of Texas System imposed increases on its health institutions and is expected to address increases for its other schools in Spring 2012.

In further response to the cuts, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted to phase out 64 current degree programs. The president of the University of Texas has said cuts will limit course offerings, lengthen the time it takes students to graduate, and hinder UT’s ability to function as a major research university.

Community colleges, long considered a stepping stone to higher education for low-income students, were spared the worst of the cuts, but are also struggling. Many have raised fees and tuition to plug budget gaps caused by state reductions for employee health insurance and retirement benefits. And as more Texas students are priced out of four-year institutions, community colleges are bursting at the seams, with students often closed out of courses they need to continue toward a degree.

Measuring Up: The National Report on Higher Education stated in 2006: “Texas’ under-performance in educating its young population could limit the state’s access to a competitive workforce and weaken its economy over time.” Yet in the intervening years, Texas leaders have done nothing to reverse this downward trend, instead slashing scholarships and other resources even further.

Texas students deserve better. Our state leaders must take action to restore all funding cuts to higher education and keep the dream of college alive for all Texas children.

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