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April 2009


Brief Bytes

by Editorial Staff

Big Dreams for Texas Babies

Texas Tution Promise Fund - A Pre-Paid Plan as Smart as You Are.

Tuition at Texas public colleges has increased by as much as 58 percent since 2003 and is expected to continue to rise. More than 4,800 families, however, have locked in today’s college costs with the Texas Tuition Promise Fund.

As of February, 4,846 children were enrolled in the plan, purchasing contracts of almost $100 million in future college tuition and required fees. Families in the Texas Tuition Promise Fund, which is managed by the Texas Comptroller’s office, can choose from levels of pricing to prepay undergraduate resident tuition and fees at public community colleges and four-year state universities.

Parents of a newborn can pay as little as $15.16 per month until high school graduation to prepay a year of tuition at a community college.

Families with children younger than one year old have until July 31, 2009, to enroll in the program. Enrollment for all other children closed Feb. 28, but will open again on Sept. 1, 2009.

To learn more about the Texas Tuition Promise Fund, or to enroll, visit www.TexasTuitionPromiseFund.com.

(Tracey Lamphere)

Texas Home Prices Hold Steady

While the rest of the country experienced falling home prices, Texas’ metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) held their home values. Just five of Texas’ 26 MSAs saw average prices decline in a 12-month period ending in September.

During the third quarter of 2008, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio were among the least likely large MSAs in the country to experience lower home prices in the next two years, according to PMI Group’s Winter 2009 Risk Index. Each had a risk index of less than one. Austin ranked as the 12th least likely metropolitan area to experience home price depreciation, with a 5.4 risk index, up from 2.3 in the second quarter of 2008.

Half of the nation’s 50 largest MSAs have an elevated or high probability of seeing lower house prices by the end of the third quarter of 2010, according to PMI.

“The two primary drivers of increased risk scores across a broader segment of MSAs are the continued high level of foreclosures and rising unemployment,” says David Berson, PMI’s chief economist and strategist.

Four of Texas’ MSAs ranked in PMI’s list of top 10 annual house price appreciation rates. Sherman-Denison had an appreciation rate of 8.56; Victoria, 8.34; Odessa, 7.98; and Bryan-College Station, 6.71.

PMI’s U.S. Market Risk Index uses economic, housing and mortgage market factors (including home price appreciation, employment, affordability, excess housing supply, interest rates and foreclosure activity) to determine the probability of lower home prices in the future.

For the full study, see PMI Group’s Risk Index (PDF, 960 KB).

(Karen Hudgins)

Growing Enrollment

Six Texas schools ranked in a national list of fastest-growing U.S. community colleges for 2007, according to a recent report compiled by Community College Week. All six were ranked against colleges with a student body of 2,500 to 4,999, and three of them – Texas State Technical College-Harlingen (10), Temple College (24) and Howard College, Big Spring (26) – experienced percentage growth in double digits between the fall semesters of 2006 and 2007. The other three to make the top 50 were Cedar Valley in Dallas, Texarkana and Kilgore colleges.

(Gerard MacCrossan)

Call Center Adds 325 Valley Jobs

The Birmingham, Alabama-based Infinity Insurance Group has opened a new 325-seat call center in McAllen.

The facility features state-of-the-art telecommunications technology and will house claims and customer service representatives who will take calls from Spanish-speaking customers.

Infinity officials selected the location because of its infrastructure, skilled work force and local support for economic development.

For more information, visit www.InfinityAuto.com.

(Tracey Lamphere)

Census Bureau offers short-term job relief

The U.S. Census Bureau has opened 11 offices throughout Texas spanning from Corpus Christi to Plano. The offices provide residents an opportunity to gain federal work experience and an opportunity to work within their communities, says Jenna Steormann, spokeswoman for the Dallas Regional Census Center.

Roughly 1,000 jobs will be open to U.S. citizens 18 and older. Applicants will have to pass a background check and a basic aptitude test, which includes, map-reading, math and reading.

The temporary positions last about eight to 10 weeks, and employees can earn between $8 and $19.25 an hour.

The bureau also opened four offices outside of Texas, two in Louisiana and two in Mississippi.

“Our job is to hire locally,” says Steormann. “We need people from the local community to step up and make the 2010 census the best one, because it will have a great effect on them for a number of years.”

For more information, call the U.S. Census Bureau at (866) 861-2010.

(Toree Roy)

Texas Apartment Rental Rates
Lower Than National Average

Three major Texas metropolitan areas boast some of the highest average monthly apartment rental rates in the state, according to a recent survey.

Austin-Round Rock held the highest average monthly rent at $867, according to the survey by RealFacts, a California-based apartment consultant. Dallas-Fort Worth had the second highest apartment rents in Texas with an average rent of $790. Houston’s $788 average placed its rental rates third.

The least expensive city among the Texas markets surveyed is Longview, with an average rent of $608.

All of these were lower than the $993 nationwide average rent in December 2008, down from $1,002 in September.

“The decline in rents and occupancy is certainly good news for renters,” the report states.

The RealFacts study found that overall apartment vacancy in major U.S. markets was 7.8 percent in December.

For more information or to obtain a copy of the report, visit www.realfacts.com.

(Karen Hudgins)

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