Dewhurst wants tuition lowered

January 22, 2009 4:37:27 PM PST
Nearly six years after agreeing to free universities to set their own tuition rates, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday it's time to limit the rapidly rising rates. Facing a major state budget shortfall in 2003, Dewhurst got behind a fiscal rescue package that triggered a 53 percent increase in tuition and fees at Texas universities.

But now Dewhurst and many legislators who favored that tuition "deregulation" bill believe it's time to once again regulate the rates students and families pay.

"We just can't afford to price out deserving young people going to college," Dewhurst, Republican leader of the Texas Senate, told reporters. "I think there is so much built up pressure that there's a likelihood that a bill will come out of the Senate putting some cap (on tuition)."

Dewhurst said a consensus is building in the Legislature to limit tuition increases, but a method is still being worked out. He said discussions have included a two-year moratorium on hikes, limiting increases to 5 percent a year or tying rising tuition to inflation.

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has filed a bill that has drawn eight co-sponsors in the 31-member Senate, including four senators who voted in favor of the 2003 deregulation. Besides the two-year tuition moratorium, the bill would peg future increases to the cost of living and require that most fee hikes be approved by a majority of students.

While the idea of college affordability has broad appeal among lawmakers, some warn it could spark potentially devastating cuts at universities and reduce the value of a degree from Texas public colleges. Opponents of regulating tuition say the state shouldn't force universities to lower tuition without offsetting the resulting loss in revenue.

Dewhurst did not spell out how much state funding he envisioned for higher education. However, he warned that with a declining economy, there would not be as much money available as in 2005 and 2007 sessions. The Legislature meets for five months in odd-numbered years.

"It's going to be a tough session we don't have as much money as we thought we were going to have," Dewhurst said.

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