Starr stresses gravity of TEG funding

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

With Texas Equalization Grant funding in peril in the state Legislature, President Ken Starr called on the Baylor family last week to contact legislators in hopes of saving the program.

“This is a Baylor family matter,” Starr said. “One of the important lessons of recent years is that the entire Baylor community has to come together to help meet the challenge of financing higher education, so this is a challenge for all of us and not just for the families themselves.”

Through the Baylor family’s efforts, Starr said he hopes to educate new members of the Legislature and show them the importance of TEG funding. In an email to the Lariat, Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell said the TEG remains intact, though its future is still uncertain.

“As of now, the TEG remains intact in both versions of the budget (SB 1 and HB 1). SB 1 funds the TEG at $168,845,655 for the biennium, which is $44,229,251 more than HB 1,” Birdwell wrote. “The Senate Committee on Finance is still in the process of working out the budget, so much is subject to change. I have and will continue to support the TEG, and thus, it is my hope that the fund will be cut the least amount possible.”

The funding was slated for a 41.5 percent cut in the original state budget proposal.

“The TEG has existed for 40 years and has now served literally tens of thousands of students and has made our state better, but there’s certain basic facts that simply may not be known, especially to newly elected members,” Starr said. “So this is, as I see it, an education process to provide information and facts as to how important the TEG has now been for 40 years under both Republican and Democratic administrations in Austin.”

Baylor receives the largest portion of TEG funding of all 40 private colleges and universities in Texas. In fiscal year 2011, Baylor received $12,328,026 from the TEG, followed by Southern Methodist University, which received $6,324,641.

“We’re also the most diverse,” Starr said, “and Baylor prides itself on being a university that seeks to be accessible to students from all communities and we want to make sure that the Baylor education remains as accessible as possible to all our students, including, of course, minority students. So the TEG has been a great source of encouragement and practical help to so many of our students over these last 40 years.”

The TEG has also benefitted taxpayers, allowing them to pay less to educate students at private universities than they pay to send students to public schools. In fiscal year 2009, full-time students attending state universities cost taxpayers $7,616 each, while the average TEG funding was $3,441 per recipient.

Private institutions, which account for about 22 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in Texas, are a vital part of the education system and are cost-efficient for tax payers, Starr said.

“Almost one-fourth of Texas college graduates come out of the private school system and they come out of that private college and university system in a very efficient way in terms of the cost to the taxpayers,” Starr said. “So if students, instead of going to a private college or a university, said, ‘Well, then I’ll go to a public,’ then it puts an enormous burden on the public university system.”

Carol McDonald, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, said she believes many legislators “understand that this is probably one of the best bargains that the state gets,” but that they are currently having to weigh cuts to a number of programs.

“The Legislature is faced with a lot of decisions about how much can it afford to do with regard to any program that the state has created and funded over the years,” McDonald said. “It’s not just a matter of student financial aid … it’s a question of what can the state afford to do about everything that it does.”

However, McDonald said that with sales tax collections going better than expected and the possibility of funding part of the appropriations bill through “non-tax revenue,” there is hope for the TEG.

“I think there is a good reason to be optimistic that TEG will come out of the Legislature considerably better than it went in,” McDonald said.

Efforts of the Baylor family to persuade their legislators to save the TEG can make a difference in the program’s fate as well, McDonald said.

“I think the important thing to remember is legislators do what the people of the state ask them to do,” McDonald said, “and Baylor is making its constituents aware of the plight of the TEG program, and that helps make those [Baylor] family members aware that they need to communicate with their legislator.”

Birdwell said constituents’ efforts to communicate with elected officials will always make a difference, and he encourages them to make those efforts. Birdwell’s office has already been contacted concerning the TEG.

“Regarding President Starr’s efforts, I am pleased to hear that he is striving to see TEG funds continue to help Baylor students,” Birdwell said. “While I cannot speak for other Senate offices, I know my staff and I have received several emails on this subject, and we’re paying close attention to what will happen next.”