Going to college this year? Sending your kid? Here’s something to keep in mind: In the five years since the Texas Legislature approved tuition deregulation, the cost of attending a state college has gone up more than 125% at some schools. Ouch.
Rates for tuition and fees at University of Houston – Clear Lake went from $1,547 per semester in 2002, to $2,741 in the fall of 2007. UH/CL will pass the $3,000 mark this year with another 5.9% increase.
Other schools check in a 130% increase at Texas A&M, 102% increase at Texas Tech and 126% at University of Houston’s main campus in tuition and fees over the last five years.
At the University of Texas at Austin the estimated cost per year for a full-time student, including room and board, books, clothing and travel, went from $21,251 in 2003 to this year’s $36,796.
Brazos County state rep Fred Brown, chairman of budget and oversight for the Higher Education, tells Hair Balls, “We’ve seen some extraordinary increases. Frankly, I’m shocked. And I don’t understand it. The cost of living hasn’t increased anywhere close to that. In addition to that, we gave all the universities even more than they had anticipated in this last [session] through appropriations. So, for them to keep increasing every year, I just don’t understand it."
“And I think there’s going to be a push-back from the Legislature. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Legislature put a halt to that, put a freeze on tuition increases.”
Brown has some advice on how to keep costs low for parents. First, take advantage of the lower costs at junior and community colleges. “Anybody that’s about to send their kids off, I think the best option is to get their core curriculum at a junior college or a community college. The savings there are substantial.”
Second, Brown advises students take classes that will give them college credit while they are still in high school. That includes AP classes or special curriculums where student stay in HISD for an extra year after graduating and earn their first year of college credits.
“We have many students that are taking college curriculum courses in high school so that a huge number of students start off college as a sophomore or even junior, and that’s wonderful and of course, cheaper.”
Third, students should take a full load of classes every semester. “Full-time students in Texas take an extraordinarily long time to graduate, which adds to the total cost of their college education. At A&M and UT, for example, 72% of their students take six years to get a four-year degree. Now both of those institutions don’t teach any night classes for their core curriculum and they only have a 48% classroom utilization rate, so part of the problem is the institution, but part of the problem is also the students who want to take fewer and fewer hours each year. If you take 15 hours every semester, you can graduate in 4 1/2 years.”
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And finally, Brown is working on a bill that will decrease the requirement for political science and history classes in college. “I don’t think that we should teach the same course in high school that we then turn right around and teach as a core curriculum class in college.” (We’re guessing he’ll have the support of lots of students on that one, even if some history and poli-sci professors get a little miffed.)
“We have to do something to stabilize the cost of our tuition prices across the state," he says.
— Olivia Flores Alvarez