One by one, representatives of the state's universities were called before a Senate subcommittee Wednesday to explain why they have raised tuition 50 percent or more during the past five years.
"It was done after much anguish," said Welcome Wilson Sr., chairman of the University of Houston's board of regents, of the decision earlier this month to increase tuition by almost 6 percent.
Senators weren't moved, suggesting legislators have grown weary of ever-rising costs in the years since they gave regents the power to set tuition and raising the question of another way to pay for higher education.
Wilson and representatives of eight other universities -- including the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas State University, Texas Southern University and Texas Tech -- appeared before the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee to discuss the issue and possible solutions.
"I supported (deregulation)," said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock. "I still do. ... But I get concerned that boards of regents, in justifying their increases, say the Legislature has not kept up. I don't think that's fair."
State spending on higher education has increased. But it hasn't kept pace with inflation and growing enrollment, so per-student state spending has dropped. Regents across the state say that has forced them to increase tuition.
Everyone agreed with the need to recruit top faculty. But that may require new funding sources, said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
He suggested a local sales tax. Another option could be to require universities with endowments of at least $5 million to spend some of that money to keep costs in check.
Several regents predicted voters would not approve a sales tax for a state university.
"There would be competing interests for that money," said Glenn O. Lewis, chairman of the board of regents at Texas Southern University and a former state representative.
The subcommittee will meet throughout the summer and fall to prepare for the next session. In the meantime, [committee Chair Sen. Judith] Zaffirini asked regents to determine what will happen if deregulation is rolled back, as well as how much state money they would need to put an end to the annual tuition increases.
"It isn't enough to talk about the problem," she said. "We have to come up with some solutions."