Time's Up
New legislation limits student freedoms
while attempting to cut taxpayer burden

Anyone who has glanced at his or her fee statement knows college is not cheap. The price of higher education continues to soar with no end in sight. Fortunately for Texans, however, the state heavily subsidizes public universities. But for some students, this may soon change.

The Texas congress has passed legislation requiring many students who have completed over 170 hours of college coursework to begin paying out-of-state tuition, a difference of close to $3,000 each semester. Although the program exempts several groups of students, other students who are sincerely seeking degrees will likely be prevented from earning their diplomas by this program.

The legislation, dubbed the Slacker Bill, was designed to stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to people who were taking college classes without any serious intent to earn a degree. Lawmakers decided these professional students should begin paying their own way.

The politicians in Austin evidently believe Texans who seek an education merely to better themselves do not merit public funds. Instead legislators hope to limit public education to those who go to college, get out quickly and start benefitting the state.

Certainly there are students who take advantage of the state's generosity by taking a wide variety of classes not necessarily related to their course of study. These students are not, however, receiving a free ride at taxpayer expense. Any university student is either gainfully employed, independently wealthy or the benefactor of expensive student loans. The price of resident tuition is sufficient to deter most people from taking classes frivolously. The new bill is unecessary and harmful.

The bill makes allowances for students pursuing double degrees, double majors or health-related degrees, but the exceptions are not sufficient.

Most college students change their majors several times before they finally graduate. For many, this means many of the classes they have already completed do not apply to their new degree plans. Other students find when they transfer not all of their course credit comes with them. Students in these categories are forced closer to the 170-hour cap through no real fault of their own.

The new bill limits student options. The legislative action may discourage students from altering their degree plans or switching schools. Instead, students may be forced to suffer through a poor choice they made just after high school.

The legislators' motivations were admirable. They were trying to cut the state's tax burden, but they picked a poor target. The public education program enriches lives and benefits the state. The 170-hour rule will limit access to that asset.

Everyone can benefit from college -- new students, returning students and even those who have attempted more than 170 hours.