Editorial: Don’t mess with Texas education

Students don’t need to be told that college is expensive, and the rising costs of higher education show no signs of slowing down. In response to this, President Obama recently announced a new proposal, which awards more federal grants and financial aid at colleges with lower tuition, to encourage universities to keep their tuition low.

The cost of tuition has risen by 27 percent in just the last 5 years at public universities, and UTSA is hardly immune to this trend – tuition for the 2008-2009 school year was $7,100, while the cost today is $9,082.

People are quick to point fingers in an attempt to assign blame for this problem. “Salaries for college professors have escalated significantly,” Vice President Joe Biden claimed last year when asked about the rising cost of tuition.

As colleges compete for top academic talent – and as average salaries of professors currently tops $200,000 at multiple colleges for the first time – this seems like the most likely excuse for rising tuition.

However, compared to inflation, professor salaries have actually fallen for each of the past three years. And, at public institutions like UTSA, where tuition costs have risen by an average of 72 percent in the last decade, professor salaries have been essentially flat at baccalaureate and doctoral institutions and have fallen by more than 5 percent at masters universities.

The main problem is not that professors are overpaid. Universities are being forced to increase their revenue because government spending for universities has fallen off a cliff in recent years, and UTSA has been disproportionately affected by this.

Unlike most schools, UTSA has been growing in leaps and bounds over the past decade, something that is reflected in its annual operating budget, the number of students enrolled here and, of course, in its tuition.

In 2005, UTSA received about $90 million from the State of Texas, which paid over 31% of the university’s bills. This was when UTSA’s operating budget was below $290 million, as compared to the almost $500 million it spent in 2012. Last year, one legislative session after the Texas Legislature cut more than $5 billion in education spending, UTSA actually received less money than it did in 2005, despite enrolling thousands more students and requiring more than $200 million more than it did just 7 years before.

This is not how Texas should be funding its future, and this is not how to encourage UTSA to be the Tier One school that the Legislature encouraged it to be ten years ago. This is before considering the Tuition Revenue Bonds – which would have paved the way for a new $74 million science building – and the underfunding of Texas Grants – which will again be awarded to only a fraction of low and moderate income students who qualify.

The cost of earning a degree today is roughly a quarter of the average household’s income, undoubtedly putting a strain on any family attempting to put their child through school. The solution to this is not blaming professors for doing their job, but for the government – particularly those lawmakers in Austin – to acknowledge the need for schools like UTSA to be given the resources they and their students need.