Dr. Dan Jones
With the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature well under way, there will be lots of lively discussion about how to stretch limited state dollars to meet rapidly expanding needs. While tax revenues are up – encouraging news by any measure – the needs of a growing state continue to outstrip available resources.
And those needs are many. Funding for water, transportation, Medicaid, and “safety net” social services cannot be deferred any longer without placing the safety and well-being of Texans in jeopardy.
And then, of course, there is the matter of education. On Monday, State District Judge Paul Dietz ruled in favor of school districts suing the state for inadequate funding of public schools.
“There is no free lunch. We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don’t,” Dietz said after delivering the ruling.
The same logic applies to higher education. Since 2003, Texas has systematically reduced funding for the state’s colleges and universities. On average, the percentage of operating budgets for state-supported regional universities such as Texas A&M University – Commerce has dropped from about 60 percent 10 years ago, to 30 percent today.
At the same time, the state’s population continues to grow, as does enrollment. A&M-Commerce now serves about 40 percent more students than it did 10 years ago. This spring, we marked our third consecutive year of record enrollment, which is now approaching 12,000.
How have we made up the shortfall? We’ve become more efficient, more productive, and more lean in our operations. We deliver more courses online than we did 10 years ago; today, nearly one-third of our total class offerings are delivered electronically. We have reduced administrative costs, and have renegotiated contracts with vendors and suppliers to get better deals.
We have increased teaching loads and class sizes – a risky move, and one that cannot be taken much further without endangering quality. We employ more part-time instructors, another tactic that can save money but put quality at risk.
And, unfortunately, we have had to raise tuition and fees. Texas A&M University – Commerce has raised its tuition rates more slowly than many other universities in Texas, and we are still the most affordable four-year public university in North Texas. But students and families still pay about 45 percent more for their education than they did 10 years ago.
A&M-Commerce will not increase tuition and fees next year, a trend we hope we can maintain. We will never waver in our commitment to our mission: to ensure that deserving students are offered the life-transforming opportunities available to them by earning a college degree.
A college degree is obvious benefit to an individual. College graduates earn more, pay more taxes, are healthier, give more to charity, vote at higher levels, and are much less likely to rely on public support.
It’s easy to see from these data that college graduates improve not only their own lives, but that they strengthen the fabric of our society as well. They are the foundation upon which a vibrant, growing economy and a healthy democracy is built.
College is not for the elite; it is for anyone who seeks a better life, for themselves, their family, their communities, and their nation. Colleges and universities provide enormous benefits to the public, and are well deserving of public support.
Dr. Dan Jones serves as the president of Texas A&M University-Commerce.