An open letter on tuition to President Powers

Katherine Taylor

Dear President William Powers Jr.,

I know you said last week that you would take student input about the tuition debate into consideration, so here’s mine:

Don’t raise tuition.

On Monday, President Barack Obama held a discussion with educational leaders, including UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, to talk about how to make college more affordable.

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “Three in four Americans now say that college is too expensive for most people to afford,” according to The New York Times. Even for those who can afford to attend college initially, students are unduly burdened with financial loan debt that now averages more than $25,000.

While I realize that everyone is affected by the current economy, Duncan highlighted measures other schools are taking, such as offering discounts for certain majors, offering tuition-free education to low-income families and cutting tuition by drastic percentages. There are other options out there that other schools are using. Here at UT, we pride ourselves on our dedication to innovation. We should partake in these measures and others, too.

I realize the opposing argument is that tuition increases are necessary so we don’t lose funding for important programs or so we don’t have to fire important faculty members. However, according to a recent University budget projection, about 84 percent of total expenditures go toward funding for faculty salaries, college program costs, facility costs and scholarships, while only about 16 percent of funding goes toward student services.

I’m not citing the argument that our faculty do not work hard enough or aren’t “productive” enough. I’m not trying to say that the percentage of the budget toward faculty over student services is even incorrect — to be a top university, we should have a huge focus on faculty. Nor am I trying to imply that faculty are unimportant or that they should be paid less.

What I’m trying to say is that every year we manage to provide significant medical, recreational and logistical services to approximately 50,000 students for a much smaller fraction of the budget. Why are we not this efficient with our budget when it comes to the largest part of it:
instructional costs?

Are we in fact offering so many courses that some of them duplicate each other? Could students not more efficiently fulfill core requirements if they were allowed to take similar courses from different colleges outside of their own? Are there ways to encourage cross registration amongst colleges, ease replication of classes and thereby reduce faculty workloads and more efficiently use our budget?

I don’t want to suggest that we lower the quality of services offered to either students or faculty, but that we instead find ways to encourage collaboration between the two so that we more efficiently utilize our budget.

Perhaps none of the solutions I’ve offered are feasible, or perhaps we’ve already tried all of them. That’s beyond the point. Our University is fully capable of leading the way in this college-costs crisis with innovative solutions focused on partnerships and collaboration, not tuition hikes that never fully solve the problem.

The tuition increases represent more than just a financial strain on students. They also represent an ideology that is adverse to change and to trying new things to solve problems. We need to stop the paradigm of taxing students to chip away at our budget issues. As you said during your State of the University address in September, “Every productivity gain in history has come from redesigned processes and better capital equipment.” UT should fulfill that promise and lead the field in innovative solutions.

I leave you with a question you’ve asked us before in this year’s State of the University address: Doesn’t Texas deserve the best?

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.