Liberal Arts Council hosts town hall to discuss tuition increase

Selah Maya Zighelboim

The Liberal Arts Council held a town hall Wednesday evening to discuss the 2 percent tuition increase the UT Board of Regents approved Oct. 2 for the 2016-2017 academic year.

A panel comprised of College of Liberal Arts dean Randy Diehl, UT student regent Justin Drake and Texas Tribune higher education reporter Matthew Watkins answered questions from about 50 student attendees. The three panelists said the tuition increase will allow the University to continue to retain and attract top faculty.

“Relative to our peers, we are becoming increasingly uncompetitive,” Diehl said. “That means we are at risk of losing faculty or not being able to recruit top faculty.”

Though the tuition increases will impact the entire University, LAC president and English junior Austin Reynolds said the purpose of the panel is to inform liberal arts students about the tuition increase as it pertains specifically to them.

“We have the biggest discrepancy in the students to professors ratio,” Reynolds said. “The liberal arts college also has a lower tuition than most other colleges, so it’s beneficial to look at how we would benefit from a tuition increase.”

Diehl said the 2 percent increase in tuition’s impact on individual students would differ depending on students’ family income.

“By Texas law, any tuition increase — let’s say 2 percent — 20 percent of that has to be allocated to basically financial need,” Diehl said. “So one thing that any tuition increase does is provide resources to [low-income] students and their families.”

According to Drake, the board will decide in February on how to proceed with the implementation of the 2 percent increase. Drake said paying for tuition increases should not solely be students’ responsibility and that universities need to do their part by becoming more efficient and that the state of Texas should pay more for tuition.

Drake said many people have proposed that the UT System keep its costs down by tapping more into a $20 billion endowment that comes from oil-rich University-owned land in West Texas. According to Drake, criticism of increased reliance on that endowment is that the endowment’s value increases and decreases depending on the price of oil and it might not be a steady source of money.

According to Watkins, the deregulation of higher education tuition is a result of the Texas legislature’s decision to put less money into higher education. However, some regents and lawmakers have expressed that tuition increases should be a last resort for universities. Although higher education is more expensive today than it once was, it had been increasing before the deregulation, according
to Watkins.

“It’s simple to say we should never increase tuition, and it’s simple to say we should continue to hire the best faculty and make UT a competitive university, but it’s incredibly hard to do both,” Watkins said.