Fixed tuition, outcome-based funding draw UT’s eye

Joshua Fechter

UT officials are closely watching a number of bills in the Texas Legislature that could impact the University’s long-term planning.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University is paying close attention to a bill that would require universities to offer undergraduate students a fixed-tuition plan for four years. 

Currently, students’ tuition may change throughout their undergraduate career. Under the bill, filed by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, if students do not complete their undergraduate degree within four years, institutions would charge tuition at the rate it was charged the year after the student initially enrolled at the institution.

Susswein said the University is open to implementing the policy but said if the Legislature approves the bill, it should also set funding for the University at a fixed rate over a certain time period.

“That way, the University knows what funding to expect from the Legislature,” he said.

UT-Dallas and UT-El Paso are the only schools in the UT System that offer guaranteed tuition plans with fixed four-year tuition rates. Gov. Rick Perry first proposed fixed four-year tuition rates Sep. 21 at the Texas Tribune Festival as part of an effort to lower the cost of attending college.

“If you get out of the University of Texas with a $50,000 debt, I don’t know if we’ve served you well,” Perry said.

Susswein said the University is also following the progression of a bill filed in the Texas House of Representatives that would increase the amount of funding tied to student success measures. A percentage of higher education institutions’ revenue from the Legislature is calculated by three-year rolling averages of specific measures, including total undergraduate degrees granted, degrees completed by non-traditional and at-risk students and cost of degrees. The bill would tie more of a university’s revenue from the state to these measures, increasing it from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Another bill, filed in the Texas Senate, would allow the UT System Board of Regents to issue bonds to help fund the construction of a new building for the Cockrell School of Engineering.

According to the minutes from the board’s August meeting, the proposed Engineering Education and Research Center would replace the Engineering-Science Building, located near the intersection of San Jacinto Boulevard and E. Dean Keeton Street. The eight-story building would include teaching laboratories for students to complete design projects and research laboratories for students and faculty to conduct research projects and would house the electrical and computer engineering department. The building would be connected to Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall.

The project would cost about $310 million from 2013 to 2018 and will be funded by Permanent University Fund bonds approved by the board in August, philanthropic funds and tuition revenue bonds.

If the Legislature grants the board authority to issue tuition revenue bonds, the project is expected to be completed in July 2016.

Printed on Friday, January 18, 2013 as: Proposed legislation could bring fixed tuition