Texas Budget Shortfall Could Mean Steep Cuts into HE Funding

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This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who particularly enjoys writing about online universities.  Questions and comments can be sent to: katherynrivas87@gmail.com.

Throughout the recession, for the past several years, some states, like California, were labeled big losers, while other states, namely Texas, were revered as models of conservative fiscal policy. Led by long-standing Governor Rick Perry, Texas fared much better throughout the economic recession, although critics contest that the state’s deficit was essentially hidden under political rhetoric that decried stimulus money with the right hand, while grabbing tons of federal funds with the left. As Texas draws up its budget in April, currently projecting a $27 billion dollar deficit, experts believe that the chickens, as it were, are coming home to roost. And that could mean bad news for state higher education funding in particular.

The University of Texas at Austin, the state’s leading institution of public higher education, as well as a nationally renowned research institution, may face $100 million dollars in cuts in 2012-13 in the state’s biennial budget. UT President Bill Powers cited this estimate, basing figures made by the House and the Senate. Since 2009, UT cut over $14 million dollars from its budget, and Powers noted that cuts of this scale in the next state budget would have a “significant and negative impact on teaching and research” at the school.

The University of Houston, a higher education system that services one of the biggest cities in the United States, with over 60,000 students, is expecting similar cuts into its budget, estimated at $81 million dollars, according to a Houston Chronicle article. UH Chancellor Renu Khator said the school may be forced to hike tuition fees if budget cuts go through. The article noted that Khator told the Senate in recent testimony that the budget cuts “would be the equivalent of losing 9,300 students, offering 1,220 fewer courses and losing between 300 and 400 faculty members.” The Daily Cougar, a UH student publication, noted that student financial aid is likewise at high risk.

Cuts to higher education in the state of Texas in particular could have long-term consequences. Texas has traditionally spent significantly less on higher education than other states in the union. Texas has worked to create a business-friendly environment, with low taxes and heavy investment in high-tech industries. But without an educated workforce, these advantages could be completely nullified. As noted in a Burnt Orange Report opinion editorial: “Deep cuts to education are not only short sighted, but they are bad for business. A strong public education system is the foundation for future economic growth and development. It doesn’t matter how low taxes are, or how few regulations there are. If Texas has a low tax burden and business friendly regulatory environment, but an uneducated workforce then it will undermine the future economic success of the state.  Undermining the education system undermines the workforce which undermines the wage base which undermines the tax base with undermines the education system. Simply put economies with a significant supply of skilled labor, created through a public school education system, are able to capitalize through the development of more value-added high tech industries.”