By Lynn Ashby 9 May 2016
School is almost over for high school seniors, and they are already making plans for college next fall: backpack, shorts, cinder blocks and boards for a bookcase — no dorm room is complete without them – the latest in gizmos, laptops and whatever else Apple just trotted out that they simply can’t do without. For you boys, check out Dad’s closet where you will find absolutely nothing worth taking except maybe some ties for a frat 80s party. Girls, don’t forget birth control pills.
By August the parents will be fretting over the kid’s departure, and the almost-empty nesters are wondering how they are going to pay for the tuition. You see, college costs in Texas are rising faster than Johnny Manziel’s rap sheet. How fast? A recent Houston Chronicle story reports that in 2003, on average, Texas college students (or their parents) paid $3,361 in tuition and fees, but in 2015 they paid $8,256, an increase of 147 percent. During that time, the median household income statewide rose by just 32 percent.
Three factors account for this monumental boost. One, the Legislature keeps reducing the state’s percentage of funding. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, state funding for public universities declined by 27 percent from 2003 to 2015 when adjusting for inflation. Two, the Legislators allowed each school to set its own tuition rates. Guess what happened? Three, overhead. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims that administrative costs at universities have risen 149 percent since 2003, while classroom costs have increased just 65 percent. Of course, Patrick also says transgenders will break into public restrooms and rape little girls, so we must take his claims with a grain of pixie dust.
There are a few more costs to consider. The DREAM Act allows illegal immigrants to stay and Texas allows them to pay in-state tuition, which is far lower that the out-of-state costs. Then there are the illegal Americans. A young lady whom I met, was visiting her father who lived on my neighborhood. Her parents divorced years ago and she lived with her mother in Indiana. But she enrolled at UT using her Texas’ father’s address. Bingo! Instead of paying $33,842, her tuition dropped to $9,798. Maybe the school is more suspicious now.
Next we have the Legislature’s Hazlewood Act, which covers college costs for Texas veterans and their children. The act, which was expanded in 2009, cost Texas public universities $169 million in tuition revenue in 2014. Come down from, say, Pennsylvania and join the Army in Dallas. When you get out, you and your children go to A&M for free. What a deal. On the other hand, each year roughly 19,000 high school graduates leave Texas for colleges in other states, where they likely pay much higher tuition bills as out-of-state students. We could use those funds right here in Texas.
This brings us to student debt. Fifty-nine percent of the graduates of a Texas public university with a bachelor’s degree have a debt, which averages $26,260, ranking him or her 27th among grads from the 50 states. Nationally, the student debt stands at $1.2 trillion, which is more than Americans owe on their credit cards, and is growing by an estimated $2,726.27 every second. Some economists fear this is influencing our overall national economy.
But there are solutions. Let’s look at the current situation. If your kid can run, dribble or tackle, there are athletic scholarships. UT has an annual athletic department budget of $167-million, largest of any school in the nation. Get your share. Schools love to talk about their diversity. Indeed, UT-Austin could be called The Diversity of Texas, but 90 percent of that student body comes from Texas, which apparently includes kids from Indiana with at least one Texan parent and any veteran from Pennsylvania who was inducted in Dallas. The entire undergraduate body is split among 226 of the state’s 254 counties and 41 states. Asians make up 3 percent of the population of Texas but account for 17.2 percent of the Longhorn student body. (No, they shouldn’t go to Rice. Hahaha.)
UT would love to increase these diversifying figures by checking off a few boxes. Sign up your child as a graduate of Bismarck, North Dakota, High School living in Loving County, Texas, (population 102, no UT students) and of Croatian-Eskimo ethnicity. No doubt she’ll get a scholarship, maybe two or three. We now know former UT President William Powers overrode the admissions office and ordered some unqualified applicants be enrolled because their parents were important, rich donors or powerful lawmakers. Give a new dorm or biology lab, or better yet, sponsor a blue chip halfback, and your kid is in. Or, if Bernie Sanders gets elected president, a free college education and thus no student debt.
But maybe your offspring has run up a debt and you don’t want to pay it. Unlike most other IOUs, bankruptcy does not shield the deadbeat from paying off a student loan. There are rare occasions when the feds will just get tired of the legal fights. Bankruptcy judges can determine whether there is a degree of “hopelessness.” However, I have been declare “hopeless” many times and still had to pay my bills.
One question: why are our universities’ tuition so high? The schools don’t pay taxes, they don’t buy raw products like steel or vegetables to churn out cars, soup or diesel fuel Most of their buildings are gifts from rich alumni who like to see their name on the front entrance. Classes at our state schools are often taught by grad students, so the tenured profs can work on their research, which is underwritten by either government or corporate grants. Here’s one possibility: The UT System will pay about $450 million for 332 acres of choice land near the Texas Medical Center. Why? I think Texas’ higher education needs a good CPA to check the finances – and count the cinder blocks
Ashby educates at firstname.lastname@example.org