On College Affordability, Texas is Failing to Sufficiently Support Its Students

Originally published by the Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities
March 7, 2017

The future economic prosperity of Texas will depend on the education and skill level of our growing workforce. As a state, we acknowledge this fact and have set an ambitious goal to ensure that 60 percent of all 25-34 yearolds obtain a postsecondary credential. However, the Texas Legislature has not prioritized funding for higher education, limiting our investment and contributing to soaring tuition.

Students are Paying More of the Cost of College Every Year

A dramatic shift has taken place in the cost of college over the past two decades in Texas. Since at least 1993, the average amount of tuition and fees that universities collect from students has grown by approximately 8 percent per year, effectively quadrupuling the burden on Texans after adjusting for inflation. At the same time, the Texas Legislature has been unable or unwilling to maintain it’s own investment in higher education. From 2000 to 2015, state appropriations to public universities declined by $2,600 per student on average.

As a result of these trends:

  • Students and their families began paying more in tuition and fees than the state provided in state appropriations for the first time in 2009.
  • In 2015, Texas provided $0.63 in state appropriations for every $1.00 paid by students in tuition and fees. By contrast, Texas provided $3.02 in state appropriations for every $1.00 paid by students in 1993.

There is a Significant Structural Problem to how Texas Funds Public Universities

More students enroll in college when the unemployment rate increases during an economic recession. Unfortunately, state budgets also tighten and funding is generally not available to keep pace with the increasing numbers of students attending college. As a result, the funding level per student decreases sharply, as occurred after the 2001 Recession and the Great Recession. To make matters worse, new investments are not made after the recession ends, creating a “ratcheting down effect” that leads to a new funding floor after each recession. These lower per-student funding levels can be seen in the chart below from 2004 to 2009 following the 2001 Recession, and from 2011 to 2015 following the Great Recession.