Tuition caps get Senate committee approval
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An intensive, month-long working group in the Texas Senate has produced a bill combining the best elements of the myriad of tuition freeze/tuition reregulation bills. The resulting SB 1443 by Zaffirini unanimously passed out of the Higher Education Committee and had the additional support of Sens. Tommy Williams, Florence Shapiro, Juan Hinojosa and John Carona. Here are the key features: — It applies only to universities whose total academic costs (tuition and mandatory fees) are above the state median. — It caps academic cost increases to the lesser of: increase in the Consumer Price Index, five percent of total costs or $315 per year. Universities that did not raise tuition this year will get a one-year grace period before the caps take effect. — It creates an optional four-year guaranteed tuition system, permitting universities to freeze tuition for each new freshman class (and permitting a five percent cost increase for each new class). However, the institution must allow students optional participation. The bill mandates that the Legislative Budget Board develop a study that defines the core costs of each institution, which lawmakers felt would have an impact on the appropriations process. While the Senate appears united, less certain is the bill’s fate in the House, where the Statesman’s Ralph Haurwitz reports that Speaker Joe Straus expressed tepid enthusiasm for freezing college tuition. An update: Zaffirini tells me she has “an understanding” with House Higher Ed chair Dan Branch that they either pick up each other’s bills, or assign them a sponsor from their committees. Also, this post has been corrected to reflect passage of the bill from committee on Friday afternoon, not Monday morning.