UT System’s shifting deadlines limited student voices on tuition

On Friday, a committee of student leaders submitted a tuition proposal to the UT System Board of Regents, settling on a suggested 2.6 percent increase for both in-state and out-of-state undergraduates tuition rates, with no changes to graduate or professional student rates. 

The proposal also included a guaranteed tuition plan, in which students would pay a predetermined rate for four years, with a guaranteed 4 percent increase every year. 

The tuition proposal comes after three months of back-and-forth between the students on the committee — whose original December proposal suggested a 3.6 percent increase for out-of-state undergraduates — students against raising tuition rates and the UT administration, the last of which contributed to the bungling of the process by changing its mind part-way through the process and re-issuing a request for a tuition proposal that only gave student leaders a month to put together a final proposal. 

The increase would raise the weighted-average tuition for in-state undergraduates from $4,899 to $5,026 and from $16,921 to $17,361 for out-of-state undergraduates, if approved.

Although tuition proposals typically come from the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, established with nine members including student leaders and faculty, the current proposal comes from a committee that started out with three students — including the Student Government and Senate of College Council presidents — and that in February was expanded to include four more students, including the Graduate Student Assembly president, after the UT System abruptly reissued its request for a tuition proposal. Both groups were given just a matter of weeks to settle on a proposal that reflected student input, which is why the proposal was assembled by a small committee instead of a full TPAC. 

In an attempt to gather more student input, the second tuition proposal process involved a number of town halls where students voiced criticism of the December plan and of tuition increases altogether, before the committee finally landed on the 2.6 percentage for both in- and out-of-state tuition raises.

Clearly, the group tasked with creating the tuition proposal has gone through the wringer, facing harsh public criticism from students and difficult time restraints from the UT System. “We did the very best that we could given the time restraints, but ultimately, the fact that we were given a month to come back with a tuition proposal prevented us from forming TPAC,” Andrew Clark, the President of the Senate of College Councils, said. 

Students may be unhappy about the tuition raise, but it’s important to keep in mind that the group wasn’t in much of a position to protest the regents’ directives. And it’s worth noting that, should the group’s proposed increases prove difficult for students if accepted by the regents, this recommendation, unlike previous TPAC proposals, is only for one, not two, years.

If there’s something to be upset about in this year’s tuition-setting process, it’s that even though the purpose of a committee like TPAC is to give a voice to students, this year, student voices were lost and limited by the ever-shifting deadlines handed down by UT System administration. 

In an environment of decreasing state funding, tuition increases seem increasingly inevitable, making them slightly easier to stomach. But students need to be able to raise questions about what other options are on the table to make up for this loss of funds from the state.

In reissuing the tuition proposal, the UT System may have included students on a potential tuition increase, but in giving students on the committee such short turn around times and not clearly expressing the reason for doing so, they limited the involvement of students in a process that directly affects them.