Hazlewood, Legacy Acts massive burden on higher education

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A bill meant to fulfill the dreams for many veterans and their children has become a nightmare for universities in Texas.

The Hazlewood Act along with its expansion, the Hazlewood Legacy Act, has become a burden on the higher education system, according to Sam Houston State University officials.

“It’s one of those extremely well meaning laws that had unintended consequences,” Al Hooten, vice president of finance and operations, said.

The acts grant tuition and fee waivers to veterans as well as their spouses and children respectively. They are non-reimbursed, which leaves the universities to cover the cost by shifting around money in their budgets.

Hooten said the programs have taken a sharp rise in popularity since 2011, two years after the Legacy Act was passed.

“Our total has gone way up,” Hooten said. “The university has to qualify to every qualified veteran.”

This year, the acts have caused a loss of more than $5.25 million to SHSU alone. The Texas State University System has felt a combined total of more than $21million, an increase of 33 percent from 2012.

The Hazlewood Act allows veterans to take up to 150 credit hours free of tuition and fees. The Hazlewood Legacy Act allows a veteran to pass on all unused hours to spouses and children.

At SHSU, more than 1,200 students, about six percent of the student body, are on these waivers.

This sudden cost to the school has forced officials to channel money from “essential areas”.

“We set aside a large block of funds to hire additional full-time faculty,” Hooten said. “We had to take that entire block of funds to cover the cost that is rising significantly.”

Hooten said money was also shifted away from maintenance and other support staff to cover the cost.

Jaimie Hebert, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, said not being able to hire full-time faculty, which includes professors, assistant and associate professors, could eventually cause issues with degree accreditation.

“The percent of credit hours taught by tenure track faculty going down,” Hebert said. “We’re not jeopardy of hitting below 50 percent. If something isn’t done about waivers we could drop down to that mark.”

Once a university drops below 50 percent, they will have issues getting their degrees accredited. Degrees coming from universities without accreditation are viewed less than those with accreditation.

Currently, Hebert said approximately 75 percent of classes are taught by tenure/tenure-tracked professors. However, some colleges are moving closer to the problem area. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is down to 60 percent, according to Hebert.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools manages the accreditation of the degrees at SHSU.

Hebert said SHSU is also in-part known for a student’s access to tenure/tenure-tracked professors rather than being taught by part-time faculty, something they are trying to protect.

The university also had to reduce the size of faculty and staff salary increases as a result.

Hebert said the university is doing its best to be efficient in the face of the so many cuts.

“Bottom line: the entire institution is operating extremely efficiently,” Hebert said.

But it won’t last forever.

“Our deans have done a wonderful job at becoming more efficient at using faculty salaries,” Hebert said. “We’re reaching a breaking point where we can’t get more efficient.”

Both Hebert and Hooten said the problem isn’t the intent of the acts, but the implementation.

“[Hazlewood and Legacy Acts] are a wonderful idea,” Hebert said, “the fact the state did not recognize the fiscal impact on the institution is what our problem is.”

Hooten said the university is in talks with legislatures in Austin to solve the problem.

“We’re showing the legislators the cost,” he said. “We all want to recognize the success that a veteran has done. But we’re asking the state to recognize that cost, the state made that cost.”

Numerous bills are being talked about to make changes to the bills, however, none have gotten enough support to be the frontrunner for change.

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