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Other Voices: Cutting higher education funding hampers economic growth

By San Antonio Express-News
April 19, 2017 at 10:42 p.m.


The Texas Legislature needs to make available some of its rose-colored lenses through which it envisions continued growth in the Texas economy while shamelessly slashing higher education funding.

Higher education is what primes the workforce pump. Shortchanging the development of skilled and trained people by cutting the funding for their education is counterproductive.

Texas has a goal but lacks a vision for how to accomplish it.

Last year, with much fanfare, the state laid out a lofty goal of having at least 60 percent of its residents between the ages of 25 and 34 with a certificate or degree by 2030. But we have had the Senate Higher Education Committee considering at least five separate bills that would limit college tuition increases. As if that were not enough to hamstring higher education, the proposed budget from the Senate calls for a 6 percent to 10 percent funding cut for colleges and universities.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick listed tuition as one of his top priorities for 2017. It sounds great. Making college affordable for students and their families is an admirable goal, but limiting tuition growth works well only if the revenue reductions are offset. Limiting all revenue sources for Texas colleges and universities is not a workable solution.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature gave public universities the right to set their own tuition and slowly started reducing the higher education funding. This forced the schools to make up the difference with tuition revenue. Since 2008 the state funding per college student has dropped $1,800 a year.

Reducing the state budget by cutting higher education funding may play well to the fiscally conservative political base back home, but it is not a workable solution for a state working to develop more top-tier universities.

A college degree — or at the very minimum a post-high school certification — is necessary to make a living wage in today's job market. By 2020, at least 30 percent of job openings will require some college experience or an associate degree.

Higher education is an investment with the potential for tremendous returns for students and the state. It's a false calculation to think reducing higher education funding is in the best interest of a state looking to grow its economy.

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