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November 05, 2012 3:47 PM It’s Really Very Simple…

By Daniel Luzer

This is almost among the “Sky Blue, Article Says” department, but this point bears repeating, perhaps over and over again.

According to an article by Ross Ramsey in the Texas Tribune, the reason Texas colleges cost students more money is because the state isn’t providing enough funding:

Legislators used to set tuition rates and also budgeted what the schools would get from the state. That had a certain political balance to it, because they were directly on the hook for the cost of education to parents and students, on one hand, and to taxpayers, on the other.
They gave that up a decade ago. Legislators still decide how much taxpayers should pay to keep state colleges and universities running, but the schools set their own tuition rates. If the state does not give them as much money as they need, they raise tuition. Legislators, no longer on that hook, can stand with their constituents and holler at the schools for making it so expensive to go to college.

In 1984 Texas taxpayers provided half of all support for public colleges. Today, Ramsey explains, the legislature makes up only 22 percent of the budget at Texas A&M University. The University of Texas as Austin gets only 13 percent of its money from the state.

The Texas Constitution says that the Lone Star State will “provide for the maintenance, support and direction of a University of the first class.”

It does not, however, explain how much money the state legislature is obligated to “provide.” It isn’t, in fact, required to give the universities any money at all.

This doesn’t mean that more state support would automatically result in lower tuition (airlines increase ticket fares when the price of fuel goes up; when gas gets cheaper again the prices don’t go down) but the trend here is clear: if we’re worrying about the price of college, all of this discussion about consumer protections, systemic factors like health care and legal services, online education, or federal financial aid policy is peripheral. It’s all about state support.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer