• October 23, 2014

'Apocalyptic' Budget Plan Sends Waves of Fear Across Texas Higher Education

Texas higher-education officials were reeling on Wednesday after lawmakers released a preliminary budget proposal that would slash financial aid, close four two-year colleges, and eliminate programs aimed at meeting the needs of the state's growing Hispanic population.

Republican lawmakers in the House, who have gained a stronger majority since November's elections, have vowed to plug a state deficit estimated at up to $27-billion over the coming biennium without raising taxes or tapping into the state's $9.4-billion rainy-day fund.

The Texas Senate is expected to unveil its spending plan next week. But the House's preliminary plan, which provides a stark outlook compared with the relatively healthy financial picture painted just a few years ago, gave colleges here plenty to worry about.

Under the House's plan for the next two-year budget cycle, Texas colleges and universities would lose $772-million, or 7.6 percent of their state funds. The cuts would include nearly $100-million each for the flagship campuses of Texas A&M University and the University of Texas.

The state's student-aid programs would take some of the biggest hits.

No new applicants would be accepted for the state's largest financial-aid program for low-income students, the Texas Grant program. It served 87,000 students this year with grants of up to $6,780 per year, but it would serve only 27,000 students in 2013 under the House plan.

Joseph P. Pettibon, associate vice president for academic services at Texas A&M, said he worried that low-income students either would not be able to attend four-year colleges or would take on too much debt if lawmakers approved the proposed cuts.

Financial-aid offers are usually made in mid- to late March, but the state budget process probably won't be completed until the summer, when the governor signs the legislation. "What do we tell students in the meantime?" Mr. Pettibon asked.

The proposed budget would also eliminate several other programs, including adult basic education and college-readiness efforts, that the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board has been using to try to increase the number of Hispanic students attending and graduating from Texas colleges.

'Very Puzzled and Very Concerned'

Funds for Texas's community and junior colleges, which currently enroll more than 70 percent of the state's college freshmen, would be slashed by nearly $145-million over the next two-year budget cycle, under the proposed spending plan.

Of that, $39-million would come from closing four two-year colleges that, combined, serve 12,000 students: Brazosport College, in Lake Jackson; Frank Phillips College, in Borger; Odessa College; and Ranger College.

Millicent M. Valek, president of Brazosport College, said she was "very puzzled and very concerned" by the proposal. "We support major industries, including the petrochemical industry, in this area, and it doesn't make sense from an economic-development point of view," she said. The college's enrollment of about 4,200 students is an all-time high, she added.

William J. Campion, president of Ranger College, said he began receiving calls at his home before 7 a.m. on Wednesday from people wondering whether the 85-year-old college was closing. "For many people in this area of rural north-central Texas, we're the only affordable postsecondary option," he said, adding that enrollment had grown 67 percent from 2009 to 2010. Even if the idea of closing colleges was an example of "apocalyptic gamesmanship" by lawmakers, he said, the proposal will make it hard for him to recruit faculty members.

Richard Rhodes, chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, lambasted lawmakers for failing to provide additional money for the state's rapidly growing two-year colleges. He said, in a written statement, that the proposed budget "seriously reduces our ability to meet the needs of our local communities."

On Tuesday a coalition of conservative Texas lawmakers released its own budget-cutting recommendations, which provide another glimpse at the steep cuts colleges here are likely to face. They include a 30-percent reduction in the central administration of each higher-education system and a 60-percent cut in discretionary higher-education spending, including a wide range of scholarship and loan programs.

The group would impose a 10-percent pay cut for all state employees, including those in higher education, and no state money would be provided for salaries of professors who are exempt from teaching because of their research requirements.

Comments

1. unlvlaw - January 20, 2011 at 07:01 am

With apologies to Mr. Zimmerman ...

"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam;
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown;
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your [state's future] to you
Is worth savin',
Then you better start [dippin' into your Rainy Day fund/lookin' beyond the next election cycle]
Or you'll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a changin'."

2. dwilliams5 - January 20, 2011 at 08:49 am

For the institutions, if Texas law makers apply their libertarian values to tuition control, then there is no problem. Let tuition rise to $35k/yr and run business as usual. Hard on students, sure, but the great libertarian experiment doesn't seem to be about making life easy, just free of govt hand holding.

When state govt stops subsidizing public schools, and those schools can raise tuition to cover costs with impunity, the highly efficient private teaching-focused universities will rejoice that the playing field has been leveled. Philanthropists can feel great about meeting great needs in support of the core mission by endowing scholarships instead of sports complexes.

Brazosport and Frank Phillips colleges will creatively turn to local industry for funding and tie themselves even tighter to the workforce training needs of their sponsors. The ground will shift but the creative and nimble institutions will do fine.

What will be most interesting will be to see what families whose plans to take advantage of highly subsidized higher Ed opportunities are dashed do at the polls next time. Will conservative Texas legislators have enough grit to stick with their purported philosophical convictions or blink at the brink?

3. geraldstanglin - January 20, 2011 at 09:38 am

We already know what will happen under this scenario. Those who have the resources will find a way to go to college and those who don't--won't. That is what public education/public higher education is supposed to be all about: somewhat leveling the playing field. Under this plan, Texas will sink to backwater state status and we will have an even larger uneducated and undereducated populace. This will hurt economic development and lower the quality of living for everyone. Back around 2000 the state implemented a programs called "Closing the Gap" to try to increase the number of underserved populations and help them succeed by completing their educational goals. This is the first step in "Widening the Gap." I weep for my state!

4. olmsted - January 20, 2011 at 10:38 am

I remember when I heard of my alma mater's plan for massive faculty hires. It was the Gates era. The good ole days. Texas, I was hearing, was seeing rampant growth in higher ed. I was proud of the plan and the way the pendulum had swung.

How quickly times have changed...

5. 11185500 - January 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

The legacy of George Bush lives and grows....

1. Promise to cut taxes and get elected governor
2. Cut taxes and blame the budget shortfall on waste & fraud
3. Cut state services, and particularly higher education
4 Promise to cut taxes more and get re-elected governor
5. Cut taxes and blame the budget shortfall on waste & fraud
6. Cut state services, and particularly higher education
7. etc.

We should next look for Governor Perry to run for President

6. kurtosis - January 20, 2011 at 11:29 am

I would assume this is the death knell for the plan to boost a few RU/H schools to RU/VH status. So much for making UH, UT-Dallas, and others into research powerhouses on par with UT and A&M.

7. deepwater - January 20, 2011 at 01:03 pm

I've always thought it foolish to hire sausage makers as politicians. And my apologies to sausage makers.

8. quicksilver - January 20, 2011 at 01:42 pm

What many who have never been responsible for balancing a budget may not understand is that difficult cuts must be made, but the irony is that cutting tuition handouts to targeted demographics is not among those difficult cuts. Texas' "Closing the Gap" was based on severely flawed (some would say trumped up) sudies that never proved that minority students would benefit from tuition grants, and if one examines the graduation rates of those who have received grants since 2000, one would be shocked at the percentage that never graduated or boosted the TX economy as the original plan predicted. TX never should have passed "Closing the Gap" in 2000, and now the state sees why, as investing in target demographics has proved to be a foolish investment. Cutting college readiness and tuition grant programs is probably the smartest cut TX can make.

9. txprof48 - January 20, 2011 at 02:32 pm

10% salary cuts and a 2 day a month furlough...this will absolutely devestate any efforts by Texas universities to recruit for the foreseeable future.

10. dundee - January 20, 2011 at 04:16 pm

Our idiot Governor is flushing highed ed. down the toilet. I hope to move to a private university ASAP before the situation gets even worse.

11. skocpol - January 20, 2011 at 04:38 pm

geraldstanglin -- nice Freudian slip there:
"to try to increase the number of underserved populations"

quicksilver -- Difficult cuts must be made because too many rich, white Texans don't give a (horse's byproduct) about anyone but themselves. Producing more God-fearing undereducated folk who listen only to Faux News is what it is all about...

12. quicksilver - January 20, 2011 at 04:41 pm

Dundee,

In SC, our idiot governor (whose kids currently attend private schools) will be doing the same, so publics will soon be forced to essentially become hybrids. BTW, our idiot governor is more idiotic than your idiot governor.

13. quicksilver - January 20, 2011 at 04:48 pm

I stand corrected...Haley's kids go to the whitest and most conservative district in Columbia, even though the gov's mansion is zoned for the most minority-heavy district in the county...hmmm.

14. bigredw - January 21, 2011 at 11:49 am

#13, Wouldn't Haley and her family traditionally not be considered "white"? If so, isn't that adding diversity to the school district you mention, or is "minority" only an ideological label that can not be given to conservatives?

15. greeneyeshade - January 21, 2011 at 04:42 pm

Mr/Ms dundee (#10), don't look now, but private institutions are tightening their belts too.

16. mjohnso9 - January 21, 2011 at 06:20 pm

If you are a faculty member at a public institution in TX, my advice is to get out while you can. This is only the first salvo in what I suspect will be a much larger battle. It should be obvious that UT-Austin and TX A&M are the only public instutitions legislator's are not willing to sacrifice to the degree of other institution's budgetary punishments.

17. craighundelt - January 25, 2011 at 01:21 pm

Higher Education has been largely exempt from the reality of this recession. Belt tightening is in order for the inflationary driver of higher education that has far exceeded other industries. My question is academic freedom really being practiced at these higher institution. The progressive view is so often the only acceptable and "rational" philosophy employed by administration and its faculty.

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