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Tuition creep strikes at TWU

The Texas Woman’s University Board of Regents has approved an increase in tuition and mandatory fees beginning with the next fall semester. As such increases go, it’s nominal — just 1.65 percent — but the numbers still make for depressing reading.

Regents approved an increase of $3.84 per semester hour, or $57.60 for an average semester load of 15 credit hours. Combined with the state-mandated tuition, that’s a total of $3,273.92 per semester in tuition and mandatory fees for students taking a 15-hour course load.

That figure is still less than the $4,174.55 in tuition and mandatory fees charged at the University of North Texas for a semester’s 15-hour course load, but it is discouraging for those of us who can remember when per-hour tuition at state colleges and universities could be expressed with a two-digit number. Both TWU and UNT remain comparatively good values when it comes to getting a college education, but the key word is “comparatively.” Even the “best-buy” colleges are breathtakingly expensive these days, and the presumably state-supported schools are no exception.

We can’t blame the schools for this. For years, the state Legislature has been reneging on its duty to fund higher education in Texas, lowering appropriations periodically rather than finding new revenue streams to keep funding at an adequate level.

It was a cold, calculated political decision: Rather than incur the wrath of the monied interests that consider each new tax the devil’s work, the Legislature simply opted to starve the colleges and universities, along with other essential educational and human services.

At one point, the legislators decided to fade some of the heat for their malfeasance by lifting the cap on tuition, allowing the colleges and universities to charge what the traffic would bear.

That, they apparently surmised, would get the political monkey off their backs and place it on the backs of the college administrators.

“Hey, don’t blame us! We didn’t raise your tuition; your school did.”

Many colleges didn’t want this new “privilege,” but were forced to accept it as the only way to keep their doors open without draconian cuts in educational programs.

To some extent, this has worked, due in part to the fact that a lot of students and parents don’t pay that much attention to who’s putting the financial hurt on them. All they know is that they’re feeling a lot of pain.

Some universities, for their part, have been trying to disguise the increases as much as possible by keeping tuition increases to a minimum and piling on the fees that every student must pay. That’s a minor offense — it doesn’t really make any difference in the bottom line — but it’s a little less than above-board, and we’d imagine that some old-line college administrators are a little embarrassed about it.

The TWU regents are grappling with the fiscal realities as best they can. Eleven percent of the institution’s designation will go toward scholarships; 8 percent of undergraduate tuition and 3 percent of graduate tuition will be set aside for need-based financial aid. That way, at least some of the increase will be plowed back to financially strapped students and their families, who can certainly use the help.

It is both uplifting and disheartening to see how educators — from public school boards to university trustees — are coping with the benign neglect being heaped upon them by the state. It is uplifting because they are working diligently to keep their financial noses above water; it is disheartening because the Legislature keeps making that water deeper.