Students rally against potential tuition increase

Nicole Cobler

Students filled the back of the Student Activity Center’s legislative assembly room during three student leadership meetings last week to oppose a proposal that may recommend an increase in tuition next year.

An ad hoc committee including seven student leaders will submit a proposal that may increase tuition by up to 2.6 percent for in-state undergraduate students and 3.6 percent for out-of-state undergraduate students, which works out to increases of $127 and $609 per long semester, respectively. The proposal will not recommend an increase for graduate student tuition.

By Wednesday, the committee must submit a proposal to President William Powers Jr. who will then make his own recommendations to the UT System Board of Regents. The board typically sets tuition for two-year periods every other year and in the past, has announced its decision during its scheduled May meeting. This time, the board will only set tuition for one academic year.

Computer science sophomore Mukund Rathi, who has protested the proposal, said he was disappointed by the process the student leaders used to court student feedback.

“It’s worth pointing out that, while the student leaders have said they want a full discussion of this issue, their only attempt to contact the student body was one email sent out on the Friday before spring break,” said Rathi, who is a former Daily Texan columnist.

Typically, an advisory committee is created as early as August and committee members meet for months to hammer out a proposal based on directives issued by the regents. This year, the regents originally issued a directive forbidding tuition increases for all in-state undergraduate students, so the advisory committee recommended in December to increase tuition for only out-of-state students. On Feb. 25, the regents issued a new directive allowing a maximum of a 2.6 percent increase.

Andrew Clark, Senate of College Councils president who was a member of both the original and newly formed committees, said that, along with the email, the Senate, Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly used social media as a way to reach out and inform students of the meetings in addition to the email they sent before spring break.

Rathi said he would have preferred to see fliers and announcements made in class to reach out to more students in what became a shortened time frame following the new directives.

“There hasn’t really been a serious attempt made to involve students in this very short time frame of discussion,” Rathi said. “These people on the ad hoc committee should demand a longer time frame from the regents.”

Rathi also said the committee should consider asking the regents to allocate money from the Permanent University Fund to the Available University Fund to offset the cost of tuition. 

The Permanent University Fund is a 137-year-old state endowment that supports the UT and Texas A&M Systems. Though, according to the Texas Constitution, the fund cannot be spent, the fund’s assets are invested and a portion of the profit makes up the Available University Fund. Money from the Available University funds can be used in more flexible ways, including covering university costs.

“It’s supposed to be used to maintain UT-Austin, so there is no constitutional reason that the regents should be withholding those funds,” Rathi said. “The amount they need to allocate from the permanent funds is only a fraction of interest, which is generated on the fund each year.”

Linguistics graduate student Adam Tallman said, even though graduate student tuition will not be considered in the revised proposal, he believes the regents could change tuition every year if students do not resist.

“If you don’t question them and you give them too much leeway, then they could increase graduate students’ tuition,” Tallman said.

The students on the ad hoc committee sent a letter to the Board of Regents on Monday explaining their frustration with the limited time frame they were given to complete the proposal.

“I’m personally very frustrated by the lack of time,” Clark said. “If it is clear that this is not just something UT-Austin is unsatisfied with, we’ll definitely be making sure that opinion is heard loud and clear with the Board of Regents.”