Georgetown lawmaker takes aim at Texas college tuition hikes

College tuition at public universities in Texas would be capped, with future increases largely limited to the rate of inflation, under a bill filed Monday by State Sen. Charles Schwertner.

Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed Senate Bill 250 as high-ranking Republicans in the State Legislature continue to shame Texas universities for hikes that have more than doubled the average cost of tuition and fees since 2003.

That year, the Legislature ceded tuition-setting authority to universities’ boards of regents. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have tried to regain some control, but those efforts have been largely unsuccessful, including a bill that Schwertner filed in 2015 that was nearly identical to the one he filed Monday.

RELATED: Should lawmakers regulate Texas tuition?

Between fall 2003 and fall 2015 — according to data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board — the average total tuition and fees statewide has risen 119 percent, from $1,934 to $4,229 for the semester, for an undergraduate who takes 15 credit hours.

At the University of Texas, the average cost increased 80 percent during that time period, to $4,903.

“Attending one of our world-class public universities shouldn’t be a luxury afforded only to the wealthy or those willing to mortgage their futures through massive student loan debt,” wrote Schwertner, in an emailed statement. “The rising cost of higher education represents a hidden tax on tens of thousands of middle-class families.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has also publicly admonished Texas public universities for tuition increases, and is among lawmakers who have promised a slew of new laws to regulate tuition in the upcoming legislative session.

Some in higher education have responded to their criticism by pointing to dwindling state funding for higher education.

Bobby Inman, a professor at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs and a committee member of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, put it bluntly in a March interview with the American-Statesman.

The Legislature wants “to be seen politically as really helping those students who are getting in debt. I have that same great concern, but I know how it came about. It came about because of dramatically declining state funding for higher education,” he said.

Schwertner’s bill, also known as the Higher Education Accountability Restoration Act, would require public universities to seek legislative approval for tuition or fee increases that exceed the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

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