Investing in the future of higher education

Jakob Lopez and Mia Cabello

Gun rights and Second Amendment issues have thus far been in the spotlight as the legislature meets in Austin, but one order of business still sits in political limbo.

Traditionally, the legislature passes a new tuition revenue bond bill every four years; yet no such bill has been signed into law since 2006.

Historically, tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) have been a vital avenue for Texas universities to acquire the funding for new on-campus construction projects. The state provides the schools with money up front, and the universities pay off the loan in the following years when the bonds are sold to the public.

Many lawmakers complain that these bills are too expensive for the state to continue footing the bill. However, the benefits that these projects bring to Texas’ college campuses more than justify the investment.

Many schools — particularly ones like UTSA that lack a consistent revenue stream outside of tuition and fees — find it particularly difficult to secure new sources of revenue without raising tuition prices or fees for students. For this reason, TRBs have played an integral role in keeping facilities up-to-date and ensuring that non-flagships have sufficient resources to meet the demands of students.

As anyone who has ever spoken to President Romo for more than a few seconds is aware, UTSA is an emerging Tier One university. This means that, although UTSA does not have the same tier one distinction as UT Austin or Rice University, it is doing everything it can to achieve the merit.

However, sometimes doing all it can is simply not enough. The Flawn Science Building is 39 years old and its labs are far behind where they should be, but UTSA does not currently have the capital to replace them.

This year, UTSA is asking the legislature for $95 million to build a more modern science building and an additional $40 million to renovate the aging Flawn Science Building. If the legislature is serious about bringing more research and jobs to the Lone Star State, it should see through on its promise to help UTSA and other emerging Tier One institutions attract not only the brightest students, but also foster the most cutting-edge research.

This is not a money issue. A recent report conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International and commissioned by the Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors found that for every dollar spent on higher education in Texas, the state gains $6.40 in tax revenues and other benefits, and society as a whole gains more than $14.

Higher education should not have to be something that is fought over, but thanks to “political fumbling” tuition revenue bonds have died in the halls of the capitol every session for almost a decade. UTSA — along with every other emerging Tier One school — needs these funds to be competitive and to continue to attract top talent from across the state and across the country.

The Texas Legislature should pass a bill authorizing new tuition revenue bonds this session, not just because UTSA will finally be able to update its aging research facilities, but also because the investment will pay dividends for the state’s students and economy.