Board of Regents will decide tuition rates

By Mary K. Schaffer March 28, 2012

The University of Texas Board of Regents will make their decision about potentially increasing tuition by 2.6 percent in a specially called meeting on April 12.

According to Dr. Thomas Melecki, director of Student Financial Services, the Office of Student Financial Services will wait until after the regents’ meeting to send out financial aid packages for continuing students so that they may use the most current tuition rates to determine aid.

The board will consider recommendations from both President William Powers Jr. and the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee. Both have recommended an increase in tuition by 2.6 percent for Texas resident undergraduate students and 3.6 percent for graduate and nonresident undergraduate students in each of the 2012-’13 and 2013-’14 academic years. According to TPAC’s recommendation to President Powers, instate undergraduates will pay about $127 more in tuition in fall 2012 and about $131 more in fall 2013. Graduate students will pay about $155 more in fall 2012 and about $160 more in fall 2013.

These increases are much lower than other tuition increases at the University’s peer institutions, such as University of California, Berkeley. According to research conducted by Student Financial Services, the University’s 2.6 percent is relatively low compared to the national average of 8.02 percent.

“This increase is actually lower than the national average because President Powers has challenged everybody to become much more productive and efficient so that we don’t have to increase costs and pass those increases on to students, like other colleges around the nation are having to do,” Melecki said.

Despite the last year’s increase of 3.99 percent, the University still made the Princeton Review list of the top 10 best value public colleges for 2012. If the regents decide to enact the 2.6 percent increase for undergraduates, University officials remain confident that the University will make the list again next year.

“If you look around nationally at other institutions in our peer group in terms of what UT charges for in-state tuition, we are exceptionally reasonable,” said Tara Doolittle, director of Media Outreach at the University. “California schools are seeing increases of eight percent or more. In terms of where we fall in average tuition, we are definitely well under the national average.”

When deciding to recommend a 2.6 percent tuition increase last semester, TPAC looked at increasing efficiency to cut down on costs rather than cutting student services, such as University Health Services and Career Services, to make up for the reduced school budget.

“Those are the first programs usually cut when trying to adjust to a reduced budget, though TPAC still tried to preserve those programs for the student body because they are important to students,” said senior Carisa Nietsche, president of the Senate of College Councils and student member of TPAC.

However, the University must still balance its interest in preserving student services with maintaining its reputation as an excellent public doctoral-granting institution, according to Melecki.

“We still want to be a great national university, too, and that’s not inexpensive,” Melecki said. “We compete for great professors, and whenever there’s competition for something, the price goes up. We can’t offer to pay a faculty member $40,000 to teach here because a school in California will pay three or four times that. We need money.”

That money, according to Doolittle, will be generated by the tuition increase and will fund excellence projects, such as increasing the four-year graduation rate, as well as a course transformation project, which aims to improve mandatory lower-division survey courses.

“In order for us to grow and excel, to fulfill our commitment to education of the first rate, we do need to see some level of increase,” Doolittle said.

Melecki said we have to invest in our University to offer the highest quality education, even if that means increasing tuition, so that it can better serve needy students.

“Nothing will lift a kid from poverty better than an excellent education,” Melecki said.

The potential increase has met with surprisingly positive reviews, according to Nietsche. She helped establish the College Tuition Budget Advisory Committees, which conducted surveys in each of the colleges to determine the student response to a potential increase, as part of TPAC’s decision-making process.

“The most interesting case study was the College of Liberal Arts,” Nietsche said. “Forty percent of students actually supported the increase. Moreover, when students heard [why we might recommend a 2.6 percent increase], they came out of TPAC student forums changing their minds about the increase. A lot of people were convinced that that was the direction we needed to be moving in.”

The University, according to Nietsche, must move in this direction because of slashes to the University’s budget provided by the Texas Legislature.

“A huge part of this is slashes from the legislature,” Nietsche said. “We still are short on money based on their cuts, about 19 million dollars.”

Melecki said that while he understands that the legislature had “horrible” budgets to deal with and that taxpayers will not want their taxes raised to pay for the interest on student loans, the University could do more with more money.

“We are trying to do the same amount with less, or do even more with less in some cases, so that we don’t have to keep increasing,” Melecki said. “More than 10 percent of positions in our office are going vacant right now. You know, I love what I do, but I won’t do it for free.”

However, Melecki said his office is hopeful that the economy will get better so that students can pay for college.

“Maybe [the legislature] will decide they can be more generous next year,” Melecki said. “Maybe not.”

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