Available University Fund helps keep tuition low at System academic institutions

Jordan Rudner

Although the UT System Board of Regents set the University’s tuition in May, tuition policies across the System for the coming years will top the agenda at the board’s meetings Wednesday and Thursday.

The regents will discuss the progress of the new medical school in Austin and examine the costs and benefits of a guaranteed tuition option, among other issues. 

The System’s recently-announced effort to review policies concerning relationships between teachers and students does not appear on the agenda. 

The board will begin its agenda with discussion and “appropriate action” to recommend a guaranteed tuition option on all UT-System campuses and a report on UT System strategies to reduce undergraduate tuition.

As the board decided in May, UT-Austin students will not experience a rise in tuition for the next two years. Students at three other UT campuses will also see a 0.0 percent tuition increase for the fall 2013 semester, while other campuses will experience minimal increases. As a result of unprecedented allocations from the Available University Fund, eight of the nine UT System academic campuses will raise tuition for fall 2013 at a rate lower than they were approved for by the board.

UT-Arlington, UT-Permian Basin and UT-Tyler will not increase their fall tuitions at all, although the board had approved a raise of at least two percent for all three campuses. The UT-Brownsville, UT-El Paso, UT-Pan American and UT-San Antonio campuses will all raise tuition by less than one percent. 

UT-Dallas will raise fall tuition by 2.93 percent, which a System press release attributed in part to the campus’s four-year guaranteed tuition policy for incoming freshmen. 

UT-Austin does not currently offer a fixed-rate tuition option, though Governor Rick Perry has been vocal about his support for freezing rates and several state representatives have filed bills related to the issue.

Mary Knight, University associate vice president and budget director, said she could imagine several benefits to offering a fixed-rate option, but emphasized that such a plan would take careful consideration.

“From a financial planning perspective, it is important to have clarity on what [a student’s] bill is going to be,” Knight said. “But so much will depend on what the legislature passes. We would prefer to have the possibility of offering it, but we don’t want it to be required.”

The eight campuses who will raise their tuitions at lower-than-approved rates will do so in large part because of allocations from the AUF made by the Board of Regents in May. According to the state constitution, UT-Austin is the only campus allowed to receive fund money to finance “excellence in its operations.” The System can grant fund money to other campuses in special circumstances to fund capital projects or other one-time purchases. 

Board chairman Gene Powell said the decision to allocate AUF funds was in line with the System’s broader mission. 

“The board is focused on the goals of the Chancellor’s Framework for Excellence, and two of the major tenets of the framework are accessibility to higher education and affordability,” Powell said in a statement. 

The board has not yet decided if it will utilize similar strategies going forward. 

“[That decision] is up to the board, but the regents have been very clear that holding the line on tuition is a chief priority,” System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said.

Published on February 13, 2013 as "Texas schools keep tuition at the same rate".