Texas Democrats believe all Texans should have the opportunity and be encouraged to pursue affordable higher education at public universities, community colleges, and technical schools. Republican “tuition deregulation” – cleverly named to imply an easing of burdens – has dramatically increased the financial burden and forced many students from middle income families to take on substantial debt to avoid being priced out of college. Republican tuition policies threaten our ability to meet state “Closing the Gaps” goals essential to our economic future. To offer affordable access to higher education, we support:
- restoration of formula contact hour funding to the level prior to Republican cuts, adjusted for inflation and student growth;
- legislative rollback of tuition and fees to affordable levels to reflect the restored funding;
- federal income tax credits for college tuition;
- full funding of TEXAS Grants and reforming and reopening the mismanaged state Prepaid Tuition Program, to provide higher education to more Texans without excessive debt burden;
- legislation to reduce the inordinately high costs of college textbooks, technical manuals and other instructional materials;
- adequate compensation, security, professional status, and benefits for all faculty and fair market wages for college employees;
- weapon-free institutes of higher education;
- higher education research funding to spur economic development, including sufficient funding to locate a Tier 1 research and teaching university in every region of the state;
- collaborative public/higher education partnerships from pre-K-16 to enhance learning and teacher preparation;
- enhanced, equitable funding for Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University and for higher education in South Texas and all border communities;
- efforts to place a voting student regent on the appointed governing board of each state-supported four-year institution of higher education; and
- the continuation of the Texas DREAM Act.
Democrats recognize and support the essential role of Texas community colleges, where almost 60% of Texas post-secondary students are enrolled. By combining affordability, high quality and responsiveness to community needs, these institutions provide an education to those who would be otherwise excluded.
Republicans have drastically reduced funding for community colleges and that burden has been shifted onto students, their families and property taxpayers. A significant funding increase would be needed just to restore Republican cuts to the 2002-3 state funding level, without adjusting for inflation. Not only do the Governor and Republican politicians again want to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs for employees’ group insurance onto students and local property taxpayers, they have already cut funding by 5% this year after providing no funding for the nearly 20% growth in community college student enrollment.
Now they are asking for an additional 10% cut for each of the next two years. Republican budgets currently provide only enough funding for 4% of eligible students to receive Texas Educational Opportunity Grants — the financial aid program for community college students. To maintain community colleges’ role in providing lifelong education, we endorse:
- full formula funding of the cost of instruction and of the growth in student enrollments;
- fully state-funded full time employee group health insurance and proportional health benefits for adjunct instructors;
- funding for new campuses and program expansions, especially in critical need programs, sufficient to meet Closing the Gaps goals;
- rolling back tuition and fees that have increased over 50% under Republican control;
- sufficient financial aid to cover 260,000 community college students who are eligible for grant assistance but receive none because state funding is inadequate; and
- elimination of financial aid rules that penalize students who transfer to universities from community colleges.
To prevent further erosion of community colleges’ ability to serve their communities, Texas Democrats oppose:
- proposals for “proportionality” that would shift group insurance costs onto students and property taxpayers;
- shifting the basis of formula funding away from actual costs; and
- “incentive” programs that would discriminate against colleges and programs serving disadvantaged and non-traditional students or against non-degree skill-building and retraining programs.