Uni Heads in Texas, Virginia Ask for More Higher Ed Money

After having grappled for several years with state financial cuts, chancellors of the university system in Texas are asking lawmakers to bump the share of the budget allocated to higher education in the next fiscal year. Kent Hance, the head of the Texas Tech University system, says that this is one way the the Legislature can make an investment in the state economy that is sure to be returned in the future. Allocating more money towards financial aid and campus maintenance and construction allows more students to enroll in and graduate from Texas universities — and then become better-earning taxpayers who generate more revenue for the state.

Hance spoke about the request for more money over the course of a meeting with the editors of the American-Statesman. Also attending the meeting were chancellors of the Texas State, University of North Texas, Texas A&M and University of Houston systems.

The political climate at the moment makes the likelihood of additional spending on higher ed rather slight. To fund such expenditure would most likely require raising taxes, something that neither the lawmakers nor the state governor Rick Perry seem inclined to even consider at the moment. Meanwhile, the funding priority for the Legislature remains the elementary and secondary public education system and programs dealing with health issues.

Yet John Sharp, the chancellor of Texas A&M, said that lawmakers should at least consider restoring the $1 billion in funding that was cut from the system in 2011.

Lee Jackson, the North Texas chancellor, noted that lawmakers last authorized a major round of so-called tuition revenue bonds for campus construction projects in 2006. Although tuition revenue backs such bonds, the debt historically has been repaid by the Legislature with general revenue. With interest rates at historical lows, this is an ideal time to issue debt, Jackson said. He acknowledged, however, that debt has become something of a four-letter word to many lawmakers in the current political climate.

Texas isn’t the only state where lawmakers are looking at requests for increased higher ed funding. Earlier this week, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia submitted a request for $109 million in additional money for the state university system. Gil Bland, the chairman of SCHEV, said that the system needed an additional infusion of money to keep down excessive tuition hikes and to maintain the competitiveness of Virginia university campuses for both students and faculty.

The request will now go before Governor Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly. If it is approved, the council plans to spend some of it on a 2% salary increase for the system faculty.

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