With college costs escalating as fast as health care, the Texas State Senate has approved a bill that would limit tuition and fee hikes to five percent at the state's largest universities.

Colleges in Texas, as in many other states, have escalated tuition increases for the last few years as state support has dwindled. The state's colleges and university raised tuition by 89 percent over the last six years.

In Texas, the legislature once dictated tuition rates for state institutions of higher learning. But in the early part of the decade, as the legislature cut the amount of state support for these institutions, it freed universities to raise tuition to make up the difference.

Critics say what happened was inevitable. With the freedom to set rates, colleges pushed tuition costs ever higher, presenting many incoming freshmen and their parents with sticker shock.

The Senate measure would not take full tuition-setting control back from all universities. Only those institutions whose tuition and fees were above the state median would be set by the state. Those below the threshold would be free to continue under their present policies.

The problem of skyrocketing college costs is not just a Texas problems. The College Board reports its figures show most students and their families can expect to pay, on average, from $108 to $1,398 more than last year for this year's tuition and fees, depending on the type of college. The tuition and fees at the average four-year state school is now $6585, up 6.4 percent from a year ago.

Private universities, of course, are much more expensive. The Baltimore Sun reports the total costs of attending Johns Hopkins, including room and board, is $53,390, up from $27,040 in the 1994-95 school years.