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Education

UT Board of Regents to Consider Tuition Increase at UT Austin

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Jeff Heimsath for KUT News
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A view of UT Austin's campus from the Main Tower.

*This post has been updated throughout.

University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven says he supports increased tuition at eight of the system's universities, including UT Austin. At a Board of Regents meeting Wednesday, McRaven said tuition at UT schools is below the national average, but so are faculty salaries. Plus, he says many lower-income students attend UT schools on scholarships and grants. 

“We need to continue, I think, to move forward with looking at how we take other steps to improve our universities," McRaven told the Regents. "But this is a very important one and, in reality, this is a very modest increase in dollars.”

UT Austin is proposing a three percent increase, which amounts to about $300 dollars more per year. 

If the board approves the increases, it will be the first tuition hike in five years, after $46 million in legislative cuts from higher education funding in 2011. UT isn’t the only university system dealing with these issues. Across the country, states are cutting higher education funding, which forces universities to get creative. 

“That’s why we have significant capital campaigns being engaged in by various institutions of higher learning in this state and, really, across the country," says Hector De Leon with the Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education. "This isn’t unique to Texas."

But De Leon says universities can’t just depend on private donations. That’s where tuition increases come in, which, De Leon says, only make it harder for poorer families to pay for college.

“Having come from a background where my father got to the third grade and my mother got to the tenth grade, we need to realize that education is the channel to which we can truly achieve the American dream and truly bring about participation by everyone in our society," De Leon says.

During his presentation, McRaven argued the increases would have a minimal effect on most students. 

"If you aggregate the increases, it's less than $2.78 a day," McRaven said.

But UT Regent Alex Cranberg says just because students are receiving grants doesn’t mean their grant money will increase if tuition goes up:

“These increase are typically going to mean a student who is working for that extra money is going to work an extra ten hours a month," Cranberg said. "Maybe it’s Starbucks for one student but it’s a couple weeks or a month of grocery bill for another student.”

Tuition increases could also affect the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s long-term plan: 60-by-30. The objective is to ensure that 60 percent of Texans have a college degree or certificate by 2030. 

“If we continue to increase tuition at the rates we’ve been doing it for the past ten years, it’s going to make goals impossible to achieve, at least the affordability and student debt goal," says Raymund Paredes, the state's higher education commissioner. One of the goals of the 60-by-30 plan is to make sure student debt doesn't continue to increase over the next 15 years. But Paredes says lawmakers aren’t the only people to blame: Universities need to be more efficient with their money.

“The state would be more willing to fund higher education at higher levels if they felt very strongly that universities were doing everything they could to hold costs down. I don’t think they believe that," Paredes says. "When they see reports that University X is going to expand in another city, when they see another university is going to build a medical school, they wonder if universities are maintaining the cost efficiency that’s absolutely necessary to maintain accessibility of higher education in Texas.”

The UT System is currently planning an expansion, and UT Austin is building a medical school. Three other public universities are trying to open medical schools across the state.

The board will likely vote on the proposed tuition increases by the end of the month.

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