The Big Picture: School’s in Session

 

The Big Picture: School's in SessionBetween the 84th Legislature and the 85th, legislators will study issues that relate to the University of Texas—and so should you.

In Texas, the legislature convenes every other year. Which means that between sessions there is considerable time for study, reflection, and preparation. For the lieutenant governor, who leads the state Senate, and the speaker, who leads the House, the mechanism for determining what issues legislators will examine are interim charges. And in advance of the coming 85th legislature, there are two charges relating directly to the University of Texas at Austin that I want to draw your attention to.

The first is tuition re-regulation. In 2003, the Texas Legislature transferred authority for setting the tuition at public universities to the boards of regents. Tuition rates rose quickly to replace falling appropriations at first, then gradually less so. In fact, from 1993 to 2003, tuition at UT-Austin rose more than twice as fast before it was deregulated than after. Tuition at our alma mater has not increased at all since 2011. In 2016, legislators will be reviewing the effects of tuition deregulation, whether boards of regents should continue having authority to set rates, and weigh implementing performance-based funding, which would make some state dollars contingent on outcomes, like graduation rates.

A second issue that legislators will take up is the Hazlewood Act. Started in 1943, the program is essentially a mini-G.I. Bill for Texas. It makes veterans and some family members eligible for free tuition to Texas public universities. While the spirit of this bill was well intentioned and our veterans have earned the benefit, the costs are currently being borne by the universities themselves, not the state. As the number of people enrolling in the program has grown, the financial burden on universities has, too.

The program is currently costing Texas universities $169 million a year, and UT System experts forecast 16 percent growth per year through 2019. UT-Austin has been ranked among the most friendly campuses in the country for veterans, and we are proud of that. But you can likely expect to see the association call on you to encourage legislators to find a way to remove some of the financial burden from universities for supporting the Hazlewood Act. We will continue to support and welcome these men and women who have served our country as they join the University of Texas family.

The university will need alumni informed and involved during the legislative interim. If you have not already signed up to be a UT Advocate, please do so here. It is the best way to educate yourself on what issues the university faces and how alumni are trying to help address them, in the Capitol and at the federal level.

Finally, because there are so many fascinating and compelling stories that come out of UT-Austin each week, I encourage you to check out The Hook, a witty, weekly video series produced by the Texas Exes. It’s on YouTube or on The Hook website. I think you’ll find it entertaining, educational, and funny.

Saludos, and Hook ’em,

Antonio Garza

President, Texas Exes

Photo by Jared Tennant

 

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