In 2003, Gov. Rick Perry signed off one of the most significant policy changes in the history of Texas higher education. With both the state and its public universities strapped for cash, the decision was made to grant universities the autonomy to set tuition rates, freeing them from government regulation that had artificially kept Texas public higher education affordable for generations.
As expected, college costs in Texas ticked upward — a trend that looks likely to persist as the state’s contribution continues to decline. Texas Tech University in Lubbock, for example, has seen the state-funded portion of its budget drop from 56 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2010. After taking another cut this year, the Texas Tech University System regents — all Perry appointees — just hiked the tuition at their main campus by 5.9 percent and at Angelo State University by 9.9 percent. At the state’s flagship institutions, the numbers are even worse: State contributions make up 24 percent of Texas A&M University’s budget and 14 percent of the University of Texas' budget, down from 52 percent 30 years ago
It’s not the sort of trend that Perry — who often notes in his stump speeches that he is an animal-science graduate from Texas A&M — wants to be associated with. More recently, he has ramped up a public push for lower tuition while shifting blame to the universities by urging them to reduce inefficiencies.
“There are serious improvements that need to be made to our higher education system,” Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier says. “We have a great higher education system, but there are steps that need to be taken to improve it, and we can’t ignore what those needs are."