By Ronald L. Trowbridge – Special to the Star-Telegram
It may seem exaggerated to accuse the Texas Legislature of neglecting low-income and minority students, but facts show otherwise. The recent decision by regents at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station to freeze tuition reveals that tuition is just too high. A study released in April by the University of Pennsylvania‘s Institute for Research on Higher Education reveals that multi-thousands of low-income and minority students cannot even begin to dream about college.
I cite some key findings: “The state’s ambitious goal to expand seven emerging research universities and to redirect public endowment funds for this purpose reveal little understanding of the serious policy tradeoffs that must be considered if Texas is to achieve significantly higher levels of educational attainment. … Yet state leaders have not recognized these tradeoffs or set realistic priorities.”
And who gets the short end of the stick? Minorities — in a state where “blacks and Hispanics represent half of Texas’s population.” The racial and economic disparities are conspicuous. The study continues: “Huge inequities persist in Texas higher education. Among younger adults ages 25-34, 43 percent of whites hold at least an associate degree, compared to 28 percent of blacks and only 15 percent of Hispanics.”
What’s more, Eduardo Ochoa, assistant secretary for postsecondary education in the Education Department, reports that at present, for grades K-12, 50 percent of students in Texas are Hispanic, and this percentage is growing.
Community colleges also get the short end of the stick. The Pennsylvania study asserts: “Texas lacks coherent policies for meeting the fiscal needs of community and technical colleges, which enroll more than half of all students who seek higher education in the state and disproportionately serve the poor and minorities.”
Data from another source, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, show that for 2002-07, state funding for public universities dropped 19.92 percent while state funding for community colleges declined 35.29 percent.
A study by the American Enterprise Institute reveals class warfare. Published in October 2011, the study, “Cheap for Whom?” finds a huge disparity between rich and poor schools, with the richer ones getting a vastly wider slice of pie. The study reports, “Among not-for-profit institutions, the amount of taxpayer subsidies hovers between $1,000 and $2,000 per student per year until we turn to the most selective institutions. … Among these already well-endowed institutions, the taxpayer subsidy jumps substantially to more than $13,000 per student per year.” The wealthy schools get Cadillacs; the poor schools beat-up Chevys.
The University of Pennsylvania study is in concert with this AEI study. Jorge Klor de Alva, co-author of the AEI study, concludes: “If the country is to retain its competitive edge, it must reverse the current policies that result in providing the lowest levels of taxpayer support to the institutions that enroll the highest percentage of low-income, nontraditional and minority students — the fastest-growing segments of the population.”
And what is a major cause of this disparity? Reports the University of Pennsylvania study, “… overexpansion of the university research function can come at the expense of educational opportunity.”
Often it is research first, students last.
Investment earnings on Tier One funds reserved for the seven emerging research universities selected are expected to grow to $2 billion. At, say, $5,000 a year for four years ($20,000), $2 billion would otherwise help 100,000 poor kids go to college. Financial return to society is much greater from educated students than from uneducated ones.
The Texas Legislature would be remiss not to scrutinize the relative largesse, inequities and disparities of government/taxpayer subsidies.
Ronald L. Trowbridge of Conroe is a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
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