By Jamie Stengle
DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Monday proposed a four-year tuition freeze for incoming college freshmen and suggested that some of the money the state spends on schools should be tied to the number of students they graduate.
Perry, who announced his education priorities during a news conference at a Dallas high school, also called on schools to give families a better understanding of the amount of money they’ll spend on college, depending on how long it takes the student to graduate.
“More and more young Texans of all backgrounds are thinking of college as this vital component of their personal success, they’re taking the active steps to get themselves to that point,” Perry said. “As state officials, we have to do everything that we can to remove the roadblocks.”
The Republican governor also renewed his call for universities to create bachelor’s degree options for $10,000 or less. Perry challenged universities last year to come up with $10,000 or less bachelor’s degrees and he said that so far, nine institutions in Texas currently offer or have announced plans for such degrees.
Perry said that a four-year tuition freeze for incoming freshmen not only gives them certainty about the amount they’ll be paying each year but also provides incentive for them to finish their degrees on time.
He said less than 30 percent of students at Texas’ four-year institutions graduate in four years and only 58 percent have a degree in six years.
“That is a system that can be and must be improved. That’s why we also need to link a portion of each university’s funding to state outcomes,” he said.
Perry said that under the existing formula, university funding is mostly based on enrollment, but he now wants 10 percent of that funding to be tied to how many students are actually getting degrees.
“If you’re not graduating your students, you’ll get less state funding,” he said.
Perry first publicly floated the idea of locked-in tuition last month.
University of Texas President Bill Powers said last week he welcomed discussions about how to give students predictability in pricing for an education but stopped short of endorsing Perry’s idea of locking in a four-year tuition rate. Powers said the Legislature should be more consistent with funding for higher education.
State lawmakers cut nearly $1 billion from higher education in 2011, including about $92 million from the University of Texas.
At Monday’s news conference, Perry acknowledged that agency heads would “probably love to be able to know that all of the funding you want is always going to be in the queue coming towards you” but said that was not how the process works.
“I think that what we’re looking for is consistency for the taxpayers,” Perry said.
UT spokesman Gary Susswein said Monday that the school would welcome state funding tied to graduation rate. He said the school graduates more students on time than any other public university in the state.
Democrat Judith Zaffirini, who chairs the influential Senate Higher Education Committee, said she wants to hear from university officials on how the proposals might impact them.
“Texas is a very large state, one size does not fit all,” she said. “We have to ensure that whatever we do, we provide flexibility.”
University of North Texas System Chancellor Lee Jackson, a former state representative, said he’d also like to see various incentives related to tuition freezes. For instance, he’d like to see an incentive for students who are able to graduate in three years.