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Tuition Relief Uncertain

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-840672.mp3

Austin, TX – State legislators are looking for a way to keep some big agencies from going out of existence. They were put in jeopardy when lawmaker used rules to keep the Department of Insurance and others from being automatically renewed without rigorous review. While that was being sorted out there was a final effort to reign in college tutition. As KERA's Shelley Kofler reports.

As House chair of higher education, Dallas Republican Dan Branch has had a pretty successful session. The one big issue that got bogged down and delayed was college tuition. Since 2003 when the legislature gave universities the authority to set their own rates, tuition and fees have risen more than 80-percent making college less affordable for many Texas families.

Key groups of lawmakers pushed a four-year freeze on college tuition for freshman, others supported a five-percent annual cap on tuition costs. Now on the last day, Branch has passed the only option left- a resolution. It urges universities to limit tuition hikes to 3.95 percent for each of the next two years. But that's a request, not a requirement.

Branch: We are trying to send a strong message that this is an issue that's causing difficulty and frustration for a lot of parents and students and families and therefore we've got to be very careful to balance the needs of the institution versus the needs of our families.

State Representative Helen Giddings, a Dallas Democrat, supported the resolution but has less faith in universities complying.

Giddings: I'm not really optimistic we are going to get the kind of results we would like to get short of legislation. So we've sent the signal hopefully they will take heed. I don't think they will, but they have the opportunity to do something.

While there is disappointment tuition regulation wasn't stronger, Branch believes this session has strengthened Texas universities and provided families with financial relief.

Branch: We did a lot in terms of financial aid, this has been a banner session for higher ed.

Money for Texas grants, the primary form of financial aid for low income student increased by more than 20-percent, and lawmakers provided tuition assistance for children in military families.

The so-called tier one with money to help universities become major research centers was sent to the governor Sunday night. The automatic admissions policy for UT-Austin was relaxed to allow the attendance of more student not in the top ten percent of high school graduates.

It's not everything Branch and others wanted, but a higher ed batting average well over 500 might be something to brag about.

Email Shelley Kofler