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2010 June 28 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Texas Higher Education Leaders Concerned about Possible Cuts

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Additional budget cuts proposed for state agencies have some college and universities freezing hiring, deferring equipment purchases, scaling back travel and worrying whether financial aid for students will be affected.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that the prospect of an additional reduction has some higher education leaders concerned.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time, because we’re experiencing record double-digit enrollment growth,” said Rey Garcia, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. “If the state’s not going to pay for the cost of enrollment growth, we may not be able to grow, and we may have to abandon the state’s goal of more access to higher education.”

Texas leaders on May 28 asked state agencies to lower their next two-year funding requests by 10 percent, in preparation for review by the 2011 Legislature. Lawmakers who convene in January face a budget shortfall of up to $18 billion.

State leaders on May 18 ordered to agencies, with some exceptions, was to immediately cut their budgets by 5 percent, implementing recommendations that state agencies in January were asked to provide.

The state’s $1.1 billion student financial aid program was spared from the 5 percent cuts, but its fate for the proposed 10 percent reductions is pending.

“We’re trying to get that answered right now,” said Andy Kesling, a spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “I wouldn’t assume one way or the other.”

Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, says he has always believed in making higher education more accessible, affordable and accountable.

“Requesting information about the impact of additional reductions is part of keeping state government accountable to taxpayers and ensuring we continue to live within our means. This is the first step in a yearlong process, and agencies have been asked to submit their proposals for leadership and lawmakers to consider,” Castle said.

Texas State University has frozen staff hiring and is cutting back on travel as it begins to develop a plan for a 10 percent cut, said Bill Nance, vice president for finance and support services.

Austin Community College has been deferring repairs and equipment purchases.

University of Texas President William Powers Jr., in an e-mail, said he will consult with faculty and staff regarding how to proceed with plans for the possibility of deeper budget cuts.

“Merit raises remain a high priority and we will do our best to preserve them,” Powers said.

Jason Cook, a spokesman for Texas A&M, said meetings will take place with faculty, administrators and campus groups to put together the university’s budget-trimming recommendations.

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