Powers talks tuition in Q&A

Liz Farmer

The Daily Texan sat down with President William Powers Jr. to discuss the tuition-setting process and his recommendations to increase tuition for the 2012-2014 school year. The UT System regents have the final say on tuition rates and will make their decision in February or March.

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 undergraduate 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 comparable 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 and curriculum redesign 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: 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.

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.

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.