Tuition hike is in UT’s best long-term interests

David Davis, Jr.

Editor's note: This column is part of a point/counterpoint on proposed undergraduate tuition increases. You can find its companion column, arguing against the proposed increases, here.

Recently, I was invited to join a Facebook event titled “Against UT tuition increases.” The group’s goal was to galvanize students against possible tuition hikes that may be suggested by student leaders in a proposal to be sent to the UT System Board of Regents on March 26. 

The Facebook group creator, computer science junior and former Daily Texan columnist Mukund Rathi, asked students to attend town hall forums held by legislative student organizations to discuss the possible tuition hikes and make their objections heard.

I attended one of these forums, but not to voice objections to the proposed tuition rates. Yes, I would prefer not to have to pay more for tuition, but, with the constant decline in state funding, as well as UT’s striving to be a leading research university, the necessity for tuition increases is inevitable. And let’s get one thing straight: Student leaders are not being asked to consider tuition increases just for the hell of it. 

During the fiscal year 1984-85, the University received 47 percent of its funding from the Texas legislature. This year, state funds have dwindled to only 13 percent of the school’s budget. 

In the past, substantial aid from the Legislature kept tuition rates artificially low. During the SG public forum held last Tuesday, Rathi said, “Students shouldn’t have to get a part-time job. Students should not have to deal with tuition increases.” Unfortunately, the reality is that we don’t live in a utopia where the cost of everything, including a college education, is equal to everyone’s financial capabilities, and any measure taken by the UT administration is not going to solve income inequality overnight. Also within this reality is a harsh truth: Money rules everything.

A key factor in student opposition to the tuition hike is the lack of information students have on the matter. The sentiment that I gathered from attending the forum was that the burden of the bulk of UT’s budget was being placed on students. 

That’s simply not true, and it wouldn’t be even if tuition were to increase. During the 2012-13 fiscal year, after tuition revenues, there was more than $1 billion left in operating expenses. Even if the University increased in-state tuition rates by 2.6 percent as proposed, the increase would only mean, on average, about $254 more per year per Texas resident student for the University, which would add only approximately $9 million to the school’s budget. About $2 million would be added from out-of-state tuition revenues. With operating expenses of more than $2.4 billion last fiscal year, and tuition covering only about $500 million, the increase in tuition would be a drop in the bucket for the University’s budget.

During the public forum, Plan II honors senior Scott Wahl proposed an active protest outside of the Board of Regents office. Although I cannot be sure as to what the Regents will decide, tuition increases for Texas residents are improbable. Last year, when President William Powers, Jr. submitted a recommendation to the Regents for a student-approved tuition increase, the request was denied. The Texas Tribune reported that the Regents Chairman Gene Powell was in favor of freezing in-state tuition in order to reduce the burden on students and their families. 

Last tuition-setting year, in order to resolve the budget problem and offset tuition increases, the Regents allocated money to the University from the Available University Fund. That money makes up the Permanent University Fund, a public endowment to support certain Texas public higher education institutions. The University cannot depend on this fund as a solution to its financial problems, though. Despite the PUF’s assets totalling nearly $16 billion, only 4.25 to 5 percent of the funds can be used for the Available University Fund. That percentage of money is not just up for taking by the University, as it is shared with the A&M system, as well as between all 15 UT system institutions. 

And, if students fear that increasing tuition now would set a precedent for future tuition increases, they shouldn’t: the Legislature has mandated a fixed tuition plan for the incoming class of Fall 2014. This plan would allow students to opt into paying the same tuition for a period of twelve consecutive semesters. 

But the main problem with arguments against tuition increases is the egocentrism of students. We think about the now and how it affects us in this moment. The ire surrounding the tuition debate only came about once the proposal included a 2.6 percent in-state undergraduate tuition increase. The original proposal submitted in December 2013 only called for increases in undergraduate tuition for out-of-state students. I didn’t hear many UT students protesting that increase. 

Students who are against the increases are simply not considering the situation from the administration’s point of view. The University has to plan for its financial position years from now, even after current students are gone, and the University cannot continue its success without adequate funding. Tuition increases are a necessary evil, and, while student leaders should represent the voice of their constituents, the voices of informed students should carry more weight in the tuition discussion. 

Davis is an international relations and French junior from Houston.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article identifed the average tuition increase as $127 per student, per year. The article has been corrected to reflect the fact that the average increase would be $127 per student, per semester.