John Tarleton’s dream to create an institution of higher education for students of modest means today is reality. Tarleton State University offers an affordable, quality education and boasts graduates whose accomplishments would leave its founder proud.
This monthly column, by an anonymous university author, looks at the school’s progress, issues of our time, achievements and challenges through the eyes of John Tarleton—a dreamer’s point of view.
College tuition continues to be a challenge for many Texas parents and students, and state legislators are looking for ways to help as they enter another difficult budget season.
It won’t be easy.
The good news is that students at Tarleton State University continue to enjoy one of the best values in Texas with moderate tuition rates and excellent faculty.
Even though tuition in Texas increased 147 percent between 2002 and 2015, Tarleton has managed to keep rate hikes to a minimum.
That’s impressive when you consider that Tarleton ranks in the bottom three when it comes to annual per-student funding from the state, trailed only by the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Houston-Downtown.
Based on 2015 numbers, Tarleton receives about $1,000 less per full-time student than the annual state median of $4,800. If the university received the state median, it could mean a yearly $10-million increase in school revenue that could provide valuable support for academic programs.
How does Tarleton continue to improve academic programs while growing faster than most universities in the country?
A strong commitment to my dream for a high-quality, affordable education, along with strategic planning and resourceful programs like the university’s guaranteed tuition-and-fee plan for undergraduate students. The plan takes the guesswork from the next academic year’s cost, locking in tuition and fees for the length of the degree program if the student graduates on time.
That commitment makes Tarleton one of the most successful public universities in Texas. Current total enrollment is 13,063 students—up 32 percent from 2011, and projected to increase for the sixth straight year this fall..
Even more, graduation and retention rates are improving. Some 1,500 students will receive diplomas this spring, compared with less than half that number in 2002.
There’s more good news.
Average student debt for a four-year Tarleton graduate is around $20,000—$6,000 less than at most public universities in Texas—and, for the last four years, the percentage of students defaulting on student loans is well below national and state averages. Tarleton continues to serve students from families of modest means in ways that enable them to obtain a college degree.
Tarleton’s financial literacy programs and core values are key to that success, providing students the tools they need to manage their money and limit debt.
It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen with state-supported higher education during the 85th Texas Legislature, but we know the university experience is paramount to continue meeting the state’s workforce needs. Some legislators support a four-year freeze on college tuition. Others have filed a bill that would ban tuition increases beyond the rate of inflation, or even mandate schools to cut costs by 15 percent.
The truth is that Tarleton faculty and staff have done yeomen’s work to keep my dream alive while growing one of the best schools in Texas on a very lean budget. But more state support is needed to continue the dream.
With the support of our legislators, I am certain that a Tarleton education will remain affordable without compromising the academic excellence that prepares our students for successful professional careers.