The 88th Legislative Session ended in historic wins and losses for public four-year colleges and universities that will have a lasting impact on college access and affordability for years to come. In exchange for freezing tuition prices for two years, removing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices, and reforming tenure, public colleges and universities gained about $700 million for research, despite some education leaders asking for $1 billion. While the tuition freeze is beneficial for students, disappointing funding additions paired with an inability to gather additional revenue from tuition and fees will likely create new challenges for our public colleges and universities.
House Joint Resolutions 3 and House Bill 1595 renamed the “Permanent University Fund” to the “Texas University Fund,” which extends research funding from the University of Texas and Texas A&M University system to the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, Texas State University and the University of North Texas (Signed into Law on June 18, 2023) ($3 billion).
House Bill 1 increased funding for student financial aid and loan repayment programs, but this increased funding does not adequately fund our colleges and universities (Signed into Law on June 18, 2023). Even with the tuition freeze, students will still pay more in tuition and fees than the state provides in funding per full-time student. Our legislature has not taken steps to provide more funding to our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), nor have they added sufficient funding to reduce the debt students take on to pay for college. There is still a long way to go to ensure colleges and universities are accessible and affordable to all students and adult learners regardless of their race, ethnicity, or economic status.
There were other wins this session relating to scholarships for certain students:
- Senate Bill 25 creates a nursing scholarship through a general appropriations act. This scholarship will help increase the number of students entering the nursing profession and decrease the amount of debt they accumulate by the end of school. This is critical as Texas faces its ongoing nursing shortage. In about two years, the expected demand for licensed vocational nurses will outpace the state’s supply of nurses. In less than 10 years, the state will need more than 12,500 FTE vocational nurses. Right now, the demand for registered nurses already exceeds our supply by at least 29,000 FTEs.
- House Bill 3447 (Texas Space Commission) & House Bill 5174 (Texas Semiconductor Innovation Consortium)
- House Bill 1590 makes the Texas Leadership Scholars program permanent and expands enrollment to graduate students. When the Texas Leadership Scholars program was originally created, it was only available to undergraduate students. Scholarship awardees receive funding to cover 100% of their tuition, fees, and a stipend for room and board for up to four years. Scholars also receive peer cohorts and mentorship.
- Senate Bill 2294 expands the Texas First Scholarship to any college or University in Texas. When students graduate at least two semesters early, they can receive a two-semester scholarship in the amount of the TEXAS grant. Previously, this scholarship was only accepted at research or emerging research institutions.
Soon, Texas colleges and universities will have to reckon with the harmful impacts brought on by the state’s decision to remove DEI offices and establish a universal tenure process.
SB 17, also known as the anti-DEI bill, will become effective at the start of 2024. By then, all colleges and universities are expected to have dismantled their DEI offices. SB 17 is a significant step backward for the state and our higher education institutions. Instead of encouraging colleges and universities to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, state representatives have eliminated DEI offices and their progressive practices.
SB 17 prohibits
- DEI Offices
- The hiring of anyone to perform duties of a DEI office (including contract hires)
- The use of diversity statements in hiring practices
- DEI training (unless developed and approved by an attorney for state and federal law compliance)
Failure to comply will result in the state withholding funding. Faculty members who fail to comply face termination. Although the bill includes language that allows universities to highlight “work” supporting first-generation college students, low-income students, and underserved students for grants and accreditation, the question remains: How will colleges and universities implement and maintain this work without an office to track or oversee activities?
- The bill excludes academic courses, research, student organizations, activities, guest speakers, and performers that increase student achievement, postgraduate outcomes, data collection, and student recruitment or admissions.
Even with the exclusions, SB 17 has a chilling effect that will end in colleges and universities eliminating their race-based programs out of fear of failing to comply with the requirements in preparation for the Supreme Court’s pending affirmative action decision.
When the anti-tenure bill (SB 18) was initially introduced, it sought to completely eliminate tenure at colleges and universities for new faculty. However, SB 18 went through several changes during the legislative process. The final version of SB 18 no longer requires the elimination of tenure, but it does weaken the structure of tenure for many higher education institutions in Texas. Starting September 1, 2023, tenured professors can face termination if they participate in “unprofessional conduct” or “moral turpitude” that “adversely affects the institution.” Tenured professors can also face termination if they violate laws or policies related to the performance of the faculty member’s duties.
This new process means faculty can face termination through a post-tenure review without being able to review and evaluate the evidence used to revoke their tenure. During the legislative session, faculty expressed concerns that changes to tenure will cause potential faculty to no longer consider working at colleges and universities in Texas. Evidence of that staffing pitfall is already present.
Texas has established its desire to have an educated workforce through its 60×30 and Build Back Better plans. However, in order to achieve this level of educational excellence, the state must be willing to make dynamic changes to the way it funds higher education institutions and support the social and economic achievement of students of color, low-income students, first-generation students, and non-traditional students.