Commerce – Given the current economic state, it appears higher education fared well during the 81st Texas Legislature, which adjourned on June 1.
Institutions throughout the state, including Texas A&M University-Commerce, now await the governor's signature on a number of bills.
Budgets for all 35 public universities were funded at a minimum level of 104 percent of their 2007-2009 amounts. Even those institutions with flat or declining enrollments were "held harmless" and guaranteed a 4 percent increase.
General revenue appropriations for A&M-Commerce for the 2009-2011 biennium total $73 million, a net increase of $3.3 million per year. Of that amount, $3.2 million will be generated from formula funding based on enrollment and formula enrichment. "Formula enrichment" means that the Legislature shifted additional dollars into the formulas, benefiting institutions such as A&M-Commerce that derive most of their funding from the formulas. In addition, $100,000 was added to the Research Development Fund, reflecting both increased funding by the state and increased research activity on campus.
The increased general revenue appropriation will allow A&M-Commerce to fund its key strategic goals: Continued growth of the Honors College ($1.2 million), a 3 percent merit pool for all employees ($1.53 million), and increased financial aid to students ($500,000).
In addition to funding for strategic goals, the budget will enable the university to cover increased costs associated with: Minimum wage increase ($100,000), increased utility costs ($100,000), and increased system assessment ($200,800).
The Legislature approved $1 million to fund the establishment of a Construction Engineering degree. This degree has been a strategic priority for the university for the last two sessions, but has failed to secure funding. This program will meet critical needs for engineering graduates, especially in the North Texas region, and will have a special focus on recruiting and retaining women and underrepresented minority students. The $1 million appropriation comes from one-time funds distributed to states from the federal ARRA Government Stabilization program, commonly known as "stimulus funds." Development of the degree proposal is underway, with a planned implementation date of Fall 2010.
Increased funding for the TEXAS Grant program will provide additional financial assistance to eligible students. Both current and prospective A&M-Commerce students will benefit from this increase.
Even though tuition rates were the subject of intense debate throughout the session, legislators did not reach consensus on the issue. At its May meeting, the Texas A&M University Board of Regents set a cap for tuition increases of either 4 percent or $150 per semester, whichever is higher. For A&M-Commerce, this cap will limit increases in designated tuition to $10 per semester credit hour, which is the rate that has been set for the 2009-2010 academic year.