Texas State’s tuition has been rising every year since 2008, which is not unusual for any Texas university. However, the rate at which Texas State’s tuition is rising outpaces that of the University of Texas and Texas A&M. This is due to a Texas constitutional endowment called the Permanent University Fund in 1876.
The PUF designates 2.1 million acres of Texas as land to be leased by oil and gas companies in order to provide funding to only the University of Texas and Texas A&M, the first universities in Texas. Between 2004 and 2013, the PUF funded $1.5 billion in projects for the two universities.
While the PUF remains a “competitive advantage” for the two universities according to UT’s website, the rest of Texas’ 36 other public universities do not receive the same funding for a competitive edge.
This fund supports two universities while Texas State, like other universities, faces rapidly rising tuition costs, underpaid and overworked faculty and struggles to fund the expansion of basic amenities like parking and courses.
This sort of selective funding demonstrates a dismissal of other Texas institutions and the education they provide as less valuable to the Texas Legislature, despite all public institutions offering mostly the same service for the exact same goal: a skilled and educated Texas as well as bastions of higher research.
At the bare minimum, education should be as accessible as possible to all people because of its empowering nature. Moreover, no person willing to learn should be denied an education simply because they cannot afford it. No Texan should be discounted because they do not attend the legislature’s preferred institutions.
Beyond whatever merit of legacy UT and TAMU may have, there is no practical reason to distribute this funding the way it has for much of Texas’ history.
While UT and TAMU are touted as the premiere Texas schools, it is important to note that one cannot simply explain away this discrepancy with the notion that if a student wants to attend a school with more funding, they should have worked harder in high school to attend these two universities.
Students’ reasoning for not attending those institutions extends beyond academic prestige. Some public universities have better specific major programs than UT or TAMU. Some students may need to attend school closer to home, but do not live anywhere close to Austin or College Station. Affordability is always a factor or it can even be a choice of preference for no discernable reason. In no scenario does a student’s choice in public schooling justify receiving less of an opportunity than their contemporaries at a different Texas campus.
This is not to disparage UT, TAMU or students of either university, they are entitled to the best education they can get. The same generosity should be extended to all Texas students by the state legislature. The state does not gain anything from cheapening the education of the majority of its young people. If Texas really wants to disprove the stigma of indifference to education, it will make equal access to education a priority. The PUF is a good place to set an initial example. It will make Texas and Texans stronger, smarter and more equal.