Powers recommending rise in tuition

Liz Farmer

President William Powers, Jr. asked the UT System Board of Regents on Thursday for the largest tuition increase the UT System will allow during the next two academic years.

Students could pay hundreds more in tuition for the 2012 – 2014 semesters if the recommendations are approved. The regents will meet in March to finalize tuition for 2012 -2013 and 2013 – 2014.

If the recommendations are followed, in-state undergraduates would pay $127 more each semester during semesters in the 2012-13 academic year and $131 more each semester during the 2013-14 year — a 2.6 percent increase each year. Out-of-state students would face a 3.6 percent tuition increase, which would mean an increase of between $560 and $642 more each semester during 2012-13 and between $580 and $665 more each semester in 2013-14. All graduate students would also pay 3.6 percent more in tuition. The UT System gave Powers several directives, including restricting tuition-increase requests to 2.6 percent for in-state undergraduates and 3.6 percent for all other students. The System required all increase requests be tied to improving four-year graduation rates. The proposed increase would provide $30.6 million worth of academic funds from 2012-2014, but there the University would still lack $30.5 million., according to tuition recommendation documents. The University is also facing a $92 million cut in state funding from the last legislative session.

The proposed figures are the same as those recommended by the University’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee on Nov 28. TPAC includes four student members and five faculty members. After reviewing reports from each of the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Committees, members discussed the needs of each of the University’s colleges.

Student CTBAC members worked with their college deans to gain feedback from students about tuition rates and college priorities. The Liberal Arts CTBAC is the only committee, out of a total of 16 CTBACs, that opposed tuition increases.

TPAC held three public forums to gather student feedback. Students voiced concerns ranging from student representation on TPAC to broader concerns like the deregulation of tuition in 2003, which turned tuition decisions over from the state to the UT System Board of Regents.

The Daily Texan sat down with Powers to discuss the tuition-setting process and his recommendations to increase tuition.

The Daily Texan: What is your vision for the University?
President William Powers, Jr.:
On tuition, we need to do things efficiently. We don’t always need every bell and whistle. We are very concerned about affordability for low-income students and middle-income families. We ought to strive to be the best public university in the country, for people to say that’s where I want to do my undergrad work or graduate work. We are an internationally respected and renowned university, but we ought to be at the top.

DT: How does UT compare to other universities?
In tuition we are in the bottom half [of a list of 12 comparative institutions]. That’s true of Texas schools generally. There are lower tuition schools, but they are high state-support schools. If you look at that funding per student per year we are dead last [of the 12 schools] and we’re producing at a very high quality. We are at a disadvantage.
We’re actually proud that we didn’t just say make it up with tuition. We made most of it up through cuts.

DT: What did you think of the UT System directives that any recommended tuition increase be tied to improving four-year graduation rates?
It’s advising, curriculum redesign and that will help tremendously on graduation rates, which is student success. We’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. It only meets half of our need for the student success. None of this will go to increasing our ability to attract faculty through salary. Those are still needs. We’re not meeting what I would call the real needs of the University.

DT: How can the University continue to attract top faculty without increasing salaries through tuition revenue?
We’ll need to look for other ways like philanthropy. We always ought to be adjusting our philanthropic efforts to adjust to the needs of the University, but it’s not totally up to us. It’s up to the donors.

DT: How did the student feedback from the TPAC forum affect your tuition recommendation?
It’s a reminder that affordability is an important part. But by and large the student feedback through the CTBAC process and the TPAC process was “nobody likes tuition increases, but a modest increase was necessary.”

DT: Why do law, pharmacy and master of business administration not have the usual differential tuition increases, in which additional charges go towards the needs of the college?
That was part of the instructions from system. I think there was a sense that affordability across the board was an important factor. Over the long run the concept of differential tuition is not being abandoned. There’s some fields where the graduates’ ability to pay is historically stronger.

DT: How did you feel when the Occupy UT students chanted at you against tuition increases during the last TPAC forum?
I was at Berkeley in the 60s as an undergraduate. I thought the comments were very constructive. It was an interesting theatrical way to make a point. People ought to express their views. You never have an open forum and have all 50,000 students come. That was an important, but small representation of students. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s not unanimous agreement on this across the University.
We do rely heavily on a representative form of government so we set up a structure for views and they come through the CTBACS and TPAC, but there are going to be students who express that differently. Those kinds of CTBAC and TPAC conversations are designed to get input, but also come up with solutions. Forums are more of an input.

DT: How could TPAC better represent student concerns?
I think the CTBAC process reflects that there is a more robust conversation. Once something becomes a regular part of the process it penetrates the community. Student leaders have a short term and they have to learn how the budget works, what the University needs are and understand affordability. It’s a complex picture. Getting some continuity is important and it’s a challenge for the students–they have to get up to speed. One of the things is to get students involved in student government or CTBAC early.

DT: How do you try to understand students who struggle to pay for UT and apply it to decisions like tuition recommendations?
We’re committed to really figure out the reasonable total cost of going to UT for a year and that includes tuition–that’s about 40 percent. There’s housing, food, they need to go home, books…you need to spend money. We look at that entire package. We look at grants, work study, for some it involves off-campus work, some loans are in that mix. I think we have been good on this goal–there’s nobody who we offer admissions to who can’t come because of finances. Now there are individual situations in which that is not true. For a four-year education that’s going to pay off over a lifetime that’s modest.

DT: What main goals of yours would not be achieved if the tuition increase is not approved?
It would be very hard to keep the momentum going on these student success programs. We need the things that enhance the quality of the educational experience at a research university. The overall financial situation is a headwind in attracting the best students and the best faculty.