ROY KENT: Something needs to be done about education costs

November 30, 2016 GMT

Education is expensive and getting more expensive all the time.

Hopefully this is something the Texas Legislature will address in the upcoming session.

The high price of education puts it beyond the reach of many otherwise well-qualified students. They see the costs, do some math to see what it would cost over four years and then determine it is too expensive.

The bad news is for a lot of students this is true.

Last week, State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) reintroduced legislation to “make higher education more affordable for middle-class Texans by controlling cost growth at public universities in Texas. Senate Bill 250 would cap tuition and fees at their current levels and limit any future increases to no more than the rate of inflation.”

The bad thing with that legislation is that Schwertner is having to reintroduce it. That means it was submitted before and Texas legislators decided to not pass it last time around.

According to a news release from Schwertner’s office, “Attending one of our world-class public universities shouldn’t be a luxury afforded only to the wealthy or those willing to mortgage their futures through massive student loan debt. The rising cost of higher education represents a hidden tax on tens of thousands of middle-class families. If we fail to address this problem now, we risk driving an entire generation of Texans from the halls of our public universities.”

The Texas Legislature is partially to blame for the high cost of education in the state. Way back in 2003, legislators gave the ability to set tuition rates to boards of regents.

Schwertner’s office reports that “Since that time, tuition and fees at Texas public universities have more than doubled and designated tuition (the portion of tuition set directly by the universities) has increased an astounding 256 percent.”

Inflation has increased 29 percent over that time.

What is really happening is that students - good students - opt to not go to college because they don’t want to face a lifetime of debt. Or at least the forceable future.

Higher percentages of college students are opting to attend community colleges to help delay the massive hit they will take when they try to work toward their ultimate degree.

For instance, for $24,000 you could attend two years at Houston Community College and pay for five of your friends to go with you, at least according to figures on the Houston Community College website.

(If you are out of district, that amount of money would pay for you and two out-of-district friends to go for two years.)

For $24,000, you could not attend Texas A&M for a year; go about four semesters at the University of Houston; or attend the average Texas university for about three semesters.

That is out of reach for most families.

College should be relatively inexpensive. (I really think it should be free but big-time universities would never go for that.) Instead, we have fat-cat universities which are constantly raising money to beef up endowments which get earmarked for everything BUT education.

According to figures from the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the University of Texas system has an endowment of more than $24 billion while the Texas A&M system has a more than $10 billion endowment.

Endowments do not go toward education. These are donations pay for a lot of things but educating students is not one of them.

As a country, the United States of America is lagging behind intellectually.

According to a report on Forbes.com, “70 percent of engineers with PhD’s who graduate from U.S. universities are foreign-born.” Many of those take advantage of the excellent albeit pricy education here and take their degrees back home.

Education needs to be cheap for Americans. We need to develop our best students to be the world’s best engineers, doctors, scientists and educators.

It should start in Texas with caps on tuition.