Are Texas state universities really “scrubbing” their budgets?

Robert Pratt photo Copyright Pratt on Texas

Robert Pratt

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick “slams universities for tuition increases” the Texas Tribune reported. The reporter characterized Patrick’s comments as his “most aggressive” yet on the subject of constant raises in tuition and fee costs at state colleges and universities.

“People did not send us here to Austin to allow universities to raise tuition five times their salaries,” Patrick said. He added that “everything is on the table” in terms of legislative remedies if such growth continues according to the Tribune report.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

“What we are asking is for our universities to be as fiscally responsible as we ask ourselves to be and for our agencies to be,” he said. “They are not an exception.” He later added, “They need to scrub their budgets like we scrub ours. Every dollar that they spend needs to be scrubbed,” the Tribune reported.

Later in the story was this line: “Meanwhile, university officials said they were working hard to cut costs and that their tuition increases were necessary to keep up with a long-term decline in per-student state appropriations,” which is utterly laughable if you live around and pay attention to many of the state’s large public campuses.

Then you get the old saw about tuition and fee increases being caused because of a “dwindling share of state funding they receive. At UT-Austin, for example, state appropriations make up 12 percent of the budget. In 1984-85, that share was 47 percent.”

Notice that the evidence cited is showing what percentage of the UT budget spending is funded by state appropriation. That number doesn’t have much meaning as it can shift from 47 to 12 percent simply by the school spending significantly more from other sources – even if the Legislature had amply added funds in each session.

To a large degree what has happened with all higher education spending nationwide is the outpacing of inflation by a huge margin in the past few decades. There hasn’t been much “budget scrubbing” going on. And because of that, Texas legislators should be hesitant to pour more taxpayer funds into higher education even if the rate of funding growth from state coffers has somewhat declined. The evidence suggests that the more money made available from government for higher education, the more higher education spends without reducing tuition and fees.

What do you think?...

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