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More non-specific cuts discussed: Film at 11

I have three things to say about this story about impending budget cuts to public higher education.

Colleges and universities expect double-digit cuts. Financial aid may be cut, too.

“There’s no way to get through this without somebody being impacted,” said Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of San Jacinto College.

Schools will react by increasing class sizes, cutting class sections and, maybe, offering fewer degree programs. Many schools will order layoffs or furloughs; the state’s two largest universities already have implemented early retirement programs for faculty.

Faculty members who still have jobs may have to teach more classes. Tuition will go up, even though governing boards are leery of dramatic increases.

And community colleges, which depend on property taxes for part of their budgets, will consider raising tax rates.

“If there are areas where we can be more efficient, we ought to do it, whether we’re talking about teaching loads or research loads,” said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. “We don’t want systems that have too much bureaucracy and prove the perception that higher education is not as efficient as it can be.”

1. We have seen, and will continue to see over the next week or two, many stories that speculate about how this section of the state’s budget or that will be cut and by how much and what they’ll do about it. What all of these stories have in common is a distinct lack of specifics, both in terms of what types of things will get cut, and how much money will be trimmed out. Rep. Branch’s quote is an excellent illustration of this. This suggests to me that nobody who will be responsible for making these decisions – that is, Republicans – have a clear idea about what they will attempt to do. I believe this is partly because they haven’t fully grasped the magnitude of it – there’s a lot of denial out there about the size of the deficit, never mind the cause of it – partly because there was very little campaigning about anything specific related to the budget, and partly because the Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner by taking tax increases and potentially the Rainy Day Fund off the table. The first meeting of the Appropriations and Ways And Means committees are going to be a splash of cold water in the face for a lot of people.

2. Even without much in the way of specifics, I still get the impression that what is being talked around doesn’t really add up to much. I admit, this is hard to say for sure, given how vague and hand-wavey everything has been so far. But when you’re talking $25 billion, which is about a third of the state’s revenue, you can’t bridge that gap by little cuts here and there. I really don’t think these guys have any idea what they’re in for, and that’s just scary.

3. As with public education, one wonders how much the people in charge care about the end results. If all of the benchmarks that we’ve claimed to have been working to improve – test scores, graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and so forth – take a plunge after the Lege does its dirty work, how will we react? Will we accept that this was a bad policy decision to make and work to fix it, or will we frantically search for scapegoats to blame it all on? I don’t know about you, but I’d bet on the latter. Martha, who has one kid in college and another a year out, has more.

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