84th Legislative Session Update
New Student Union (Senate Bill 596 by Sen. Craig Estes and Rep. Myra Crownover) – This bill grants legislative approval for the increase in student fees needed to construct a new student union at Hubbard Hall. The fee was approved this spring by the student body and the Board of Regents. Design and planning for the new union will begin this fall, with an expected construction completion date of summer 2019.
Center for Women in Business (House Bill 1 by Rep. John Otto and Sen. Jane Nelson) – Governor Abbott recently signed the budget authorizing TWU to receive $2.2 million in state funding over the next two years to establish a Center for Women in Business on our Denton campus. This new center will be the first of its kind in the region and will provide research and leadership opportunities that encourage and support women’s business ownership and success.
Significant Increase in the Higher Education Fund (House Bill 2848 by Rep. Myra Crownover and Sen. Kel Seliger) – Like other Texas institutions, TWU receives funding for infrastructure maintenance and repair from the Higher Education Fund. Rep. Crownover authored this important legislation that continues this vital funding stream and provides for a 45 percent increase to the fund in fiscal year 2017 and beyond.
New Science and Technology Building (House Bill 100 by Rep. John Zerwas and Sen. Kel Seliger) – We received Tuition Revenue Bonds of almost $38 million for the construction of a new Science and Technology Laboratory Building at TWU. Thanks to the hard work of Sen. Craig Estes and Rep. Myra Crownover, we received the full amount we requested.
In general, higher education experienced solid legislative support in the Texas budget. Denton County Sen. Jane Nelson was the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and we are grateful for her support of Higher Education and for TWU in particular. Overall higher education funding for fiscal year 2016-17 rose $1.1 billion to $17.2 billion.
Statewide budget highlights include:
- Almost a 3 percent increase in formula funding. (Unfortunately, due to increased enrollment at other institutions TWU did not receive the benefit of the increase in formula funding.)
- $3.1 billion for capital construction / Tuition Revenue Bonds.
- $41 million for a program to recruit Nobel Laureates and prominent professors to Texas schools.
- $150 million increase in research funding for emerging research institutions. (TWU is not among this group, but this shows legislative support for research, which is good for higher education overall.)
- $62.7 million increase in Texas Grant funding to $715 million. This is expected to provide academic year stipends of $5,000 to 85 percent of eligible students and will benefit TWU students greatly.
Other Important Legislative Issues
Hazelwood Reform — Everyone agrees that the Hazelwood program which provides free tuition for our veterans is a worthy goal. However, the size and cost of the program continues to grow at an unsustainable rate. Without increased funding by the state or reform to the program, the cost of the Hazelwood program will continue to be passed on to all students. Sen. Brian Birdwell is a veteran and was in the Pentagon on 9/11. He courageously filed SB 1735 in the Texas Senate to provide the reforms needed to contain costs within the Hazelwood Program without in any way limiting direct benefits to our veteran students. Unfortunately, SB 1735 did not make it to the Governor’s desk in fiscal year 2015, but this is an issue that legislators will certainly take a look at in the next legislative session.
The Dream Act— Currently, Texas provides in-state tuition for certain undocumented immigrants who graduate from Texas high schools. Multiple bills were filed during the legislative session that sought to repeal the “Texas Dream Act.” In the end, those efforts fell short, and TWU will continue to serve all Texas residents who meet the criteria for in-state tuition.
Campus Carry — Senate Bill 11 by Sen. Birdwell and Rep. Allen Fletcher authorizes Texans who have a concealed handgun license to carry a concealed weapon on campus starting in August 2016. A key amendment was added in the House that allows TWU and all other universities one year to design a plan to implement procedures for campus carry. TWU campuses will be working with faculty, students and staff to develop a plan to be approved by the Board of Regents prior to August 2016.
A few other important facts about Campus Carry to keep in mind:
- The ONLY persons allowed to carry a weapon on campus must complete a background check, training and obtain a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) from the Department of Public Safety. CHL permits are only available to individuals over the age of 21.
- Universities are granted the flexibility to designate certain areas of campus as gun free; however, the law does prohibit widespread use of gun-free zones.
- Universities are exempt from Open Carry. House Bill 910 by Rep. Larry Phillips and Sen. Craig Estes allows for the open carrying of firearms in Texas and was signed into law by Governor Abbott. Sen. Estes accepted a key amendment to the legislation exempting institutions of higher education from open carry.
Tuition Re-Regulation — Multiple bills were filed that would have limited the ability of our Board of Regents to set tuition rates. None of those bills passed, but our Board is committed to keeping tuition at TWU as low as possible while providing a high-quality education for our students. TWU is currently ranked as the third most affordable university in Texas, and our graduates have the second-highest average salaries upon graduation. We remain committed to continuing to provide a high-value education on all of our campuses.
Bachelor’s Degrees at Community Colleges — A growing number of legislators and policy advocates believe that community/junior colleges should be allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees, and this legislative session saw a number of bills filed to allow community colleges to offer bachelor of arts degrees in specific areas of study. Unfortunately, the focus of many of those efforts are centered around areas important to TWU, such as nursing, teaching and dental hygiene. There is a fundamental misunderstanding among many advocates that shortages in certain workforce areas can easily be addressed by allowing community colleges to offer BAs in those fields. The issue is far more complex, and we continue to educate our elected officials about how these complex problems will not be solved with one simple solution.
Fortunately, in most cases, the legislature heard and understood our concerns. However, one bill did pass that affects TWU: HB 3348 will allow Tyler Junior College to implement a pilot program to offer a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. The program will be tracked for effectiveness and must be reauthorized in four years by the legislature.