Rick Perry’s plans for higher education include more $10K degrees

Governor Rick Perry recently called for universities to begin freezing tuition for incoming freshman while encouraging universities to offer $10,000 degree plans. Perry has also suggested that the Texas Legislature consider a performance-based funding model for universities, where 10 percent of funding would be dependent on the universities’ graduation rates.

According to the Texas Tribune, freezing tuition for freshman would only be in effect for their first four years of school, likely defaulting to a higher rate after that time. “Implementing these measures will meet the growing demand for higher education in a way that provides encouragement for students to complete their degree in a timely fashion and with financial certainty,” said Perry.

This approach has been tested at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). UTEP President Diana Natalicio told the Texas Tribune that, although her school offers a “one price for four years” option, most UTEP students prefer to pay as they go instead, as many are working their way through school and do not plan to finish in four years. Mandating this approach may also lead to colleges giving an increased per-year tuition rate to account for expected future increases in tuition.

Many universities around Texas, including UTSA, have looked into offering $10,000 degree plans. “There’s a lot of innovative ideas that are being discussed at universities across the state on how best to do that and the $10,000 degree is one of those,” said UTSA Chief  Communications Officer Joe Izbrand. “We are evaluating that scenario among others. It’s very early on in the process,” he added.

According to the Texas Tribune, State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas), has expressed concern about the $10,000 degree, urging policymakers not to sacrifice quality for affordability. “It’s a really expensive education if you pay money and don’t get educated,” he said.

Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, expressed his uncertainty to the Texas Tribune.  “It is good to have anything that calls attention to the fact that we can’t continue on this unsustainable path of increasing tuition and fees, but it’s a mistake to think you can do it with equal ease or the same amount of difficulty at all institutions.”

However, funding universities based on graduation rates is another method for reinforcing the push to get students through college quickly and affordably. “Research has shown a student who completes their degrees in four years academically does better and incurs less financial cost,” said Izbrand while discussing UTSA’s Graduation Rate Improvement Plan (GRIP). Graduation rate has already been a focus of the UT system since Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa unveiled his Framework for Advancing Excellence policy in 2011.

The UT system has also implemented an incentive program that currently amounts to additional pay for presidents whose schools meet these goals. There are currently no plans to extend these incentives to other administrators; however, the Texas Tribune reported that Cigarroa admitted the current incentives are a good start.

“We want to do everything we possibly can to keep college education affordable,” said Izbrand. However, Izbrand went on to state that affordability “needs to be balanced against doing everything we can to ensure a quality education for students.” He explained that the decisions made by the Texas Legislature will have a big effect on what colleges will do next, as the state needs to first decide how much money will be allotted for grants and funding for higher education.

“It’s really important for all of us… to watch with interest what will happen in the state legislature this coming year,” Izbrand said.

The next session of the Texas Legislature begins this January.