Central Texas students descended on Austin Saturday with the hopes of alleviating tuition woes.
Legislators are reviewing multiple higher education bills. Among those are Senate Bills 326, 46 and 105.
SB 105, authored by nine senators, requires student approval for fee increases. Texas State and University of Texas students teamed up to advocate for the bill at the Texas Democratic Party’s State Democratic Executive Committee Meeting Saturday.
Amanda Domaschk, president of the Texas State College Democrats, urged the committee to adopt tuition relief in her address to the members.
“It’s not just a Texas State problem, it’s a State of Texas problem,” said Domaschk, political science senior.
The Democratic Executive Committee approved support of the bill unanimously and gave the students a standing ovation after the College Democrats’ presidents of Texas State and UT gave their speeches.
Domaschk said the committee members’ support is encouraging.
“I think the Texas Democratic Party is very receptive to tuition relief,” Domashck said. “With the passing of this resolution, I think they will urge Democratic congress members to put this as a number one importance.”
Domaschk said delays in tuition relief are “pricing the middle class out of an education.”
Samuel Ortega, member of College Democrats, made the trip to Austin and said the push for tuition regulation is a relief to his pocketbook.
“For me, taking out a $7,500 loan every two semesters is a pain,” said Ortega, political science junior. “Any kind of tuition relief, even if it’s not perfect, would be nice.”
SB 326, authored by Texas Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-8), focuses on “stabilizing the amount of tuition charged” to certain state residents.
Senate Bill 46, authored by Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-21), chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, would allow tuition exemptions for students who volunteer for outreach programs in the area. The bill states, “The governing board of an institution of higher education may exempt from the payment of tuition and fees for one course offered by the institution per semester.”
Lisa Ahrlett, legislative liaison, said the bill will have an advantage over others because of Zaffirini’s committee position having “a lot of sway.”
Ahrlett is a member of the Texas Student Association, an organization comprised of campus leaders statewide who come together to discuss higher education legislation.
Ahrlett said the bills give hope to students, but are in a slow moving process.
“You have a lot of repetitive ideas going into each of these bills, so it’s really early in the game to know what is going to come out of this,” Ahrlett said. “But it’s going to be a combination of these bills that gets passed.”
House Bill 215 relates to the regulation of “limitations on increases in fees and designated tuition charged by public institutions of higher education.” Ahrlett said the bill and SB 105 are causing senators to reply with “two fold” recommendations for what should be done to make changes.
“They want to retro activate this bill so if it passes, then if tuition at Texas State rose more than the percent of inflation for this past school year, then we would be refunded that amount,” Ahrlett said. “So that is going to be a pretty big burden on the school.”
Drew Surprenant, member of the Texas Student Association, said a lack of funding causes a problem for institutions like Texas State.
“It’s very hard to distinguish when you talk about tuition freezes and funding — it’s really hard to find funding from different areas of the university,” said Surprenant, electronic media senior.
ASG President Brett Baker said ASG is monitoring tuition relief bills. However, Baker, alongside fellow members of the Texas Student Association, said they are not publicly endorsing tuition freezes.
“Students want more affordable higher education, but the thing is we don’t want to hurt our actual institution for lowering the cost of education,” Baker said. “I think we need to make higher education an important focus of the future.”
Cristina Solis, international studies senior, said she is in favor of a tuition freeze, but agrees funding causes a problem.
“I think that (a tuition freeze) is a good idea, but then again I think they need to raise tuition in order to pay for construction on campus, because I don’t know where else they would get that money,” Solis said. “If it’s going to help to promote Texas State as a better university, then I support it.”
Ahrlett agreed with Surprenant saying she does not believe students are willing to “paralyze our school” while trying to make tuition affordable. However, textbooks, transfer credits and tuition are the top three priorities higher education legislators want to get out of the 2009 session, Ahrlett said.
“Nobody is willing to see their schools growth stagnate,” Ahrlett said. “Nobody wants to lose funding for programs and new buildings. We want new programs, and we want new degrees offered, and it’s going to be a really competitive market right now with this bad economy.”
Michael Dimitri, economics senior, said tuition should be regulated on the basis of which classification a student files under.
“I think the undergraduates should pay for undergraduate fees and allow those who are looking to get doctorates to pay for those fees,” Dimitri said. “I think they need to put a cap on tuition to control the inflation.”
Ahrlett said compromises need to be made to achieve some form of tuition relief. She said she is worried the decision made by legislators “might be a Band-Aid and just help for the moment,” but will not “be a long term solution.”
Reporting contributed by Allen Reed