There was a time when the best education bargain in the United States was a college degree from one of Texas’ state colleges. The tuition I paid for my engineering degree was about $50 per semester, and the only fees were a few lab fees and a student fee, which mainly allowed a student to attend athletic events at a student discount. Even an engineering student, who had more than the average number of labs, could register for under $100 per semester.
Because of this affordability, virtually every young person in Texas could afford to attend some of the best colleges in the United States. This kind of educational opportunity served as an economic engine in Texas for decades.
That $100 per semester in 1960 would translate with inflation to about $780 per semester or $1,560 per year today. Perhaps not quite the bargain it was 50 years ago, but still relatively affordable.
Then, a few years ago, the state leadership started cutting state funding for our public colleges — dramatically so. The leadership told these institutions that, if they had to have the same level of funding to maintain their academic excellence, they would have to get it from students — raise their tuition to make up the difference — and they authorized them to do just that.
The colleges and universities had no choice but to pass along the responsibility for funding to the students in the form of dramatic tuition increases in order to make up for the cuts in state funding. As recently as 2004, the average cost of tuition and fees at a Texas public university was about $4,000 per year.