Mixed reactions, uncertainty surrounds tuition increase

Caleb Wong

A proposed 3 percent tuition increase has been met with both support and pushback from UT students as the University strives to rein in rising costs while remaining affordable.

President Gregory Fenves submitted a proposal to the Board of Regents to increase tuition by 3.1 percent in the 2016-2017 academic year and 3 percent in the 2017-2018 academic year — an average increase of $150 per semester. Tuition increases will fund initiatives to improve the graduation rate, raise faculty salaries, provide scholarships to disadvantaged students and maintain campus facilities, according to the Tuition Advisory Policy Committee.

Yanett Heredia, a neuroscience and Spanish sophomore who receives financial aid, said she thinks the proposed tuition increase would contradict UT’s stated goal of increasing student diversity. She described her financial situation as “tight” and said the money used to go to tuition could buy books or pay for food.

“I definitely think that will have a negative impact on students, especially the students I usually interact with on a daily basis,” Heredia said. “You might see an increase in drop-out students.”   

Student Government Vice President Rohit Mandalapu, who serves on the committee, said most students understand the need for a tuition increase and argued that the low turnout at tuition feedback forums signals their tacit acceptance of higher tuition costs. The committee recommends the amount of tuition to the UT President.

“If the University’s academics go down, then the value of our degrees [goes] down,” Mandalapu, a Plan II senior, said. “I think a lot of students see it as something that really stinks, but given the situation right now, we’re in a situation where our backs are against the wall.”

The proposed increase is the first time tuition has risen since 2011. From 2003 to 2013, tuition rose by 80 percent, according to an analysis by the Texas Tribune.

Government sophomore Jennell Benson said if the proposition goes through, it will personally affect her as well as other students using financial aid.

“I have to pull out more financial aid and more subsidized and unsubsidized loans,” Benson said. “This is something that needs to be talked about statewide and country-wide.”

Trish Manor, associate director for the financial aid office, said financial aid administrators were not sure if they would be able to cover the tuition increase for students who receive financial aid because the University and the state have not allocated money to the financial aid office yet. She said many students do not take out the maximum amount of loans offered because they want to reduce their debt load.

“The bottom line is: We’ll use whatever available funding we have,” Manor said. “If there’s no increase in grant funding, we’ll have to go with what we have.”

Even as Mandalapu defended the tuition increase, he said more work needed to be done to minimize the financial burden on students. He said the next Student Government leaders should work with elected officials to reduce the impact of tuition on students during the next legislative session.

“The next administration is really important if they want to start a conversation about how money is appropriated to public universities,” Mandalapu added. “They will be there when the legislature is starting. That’s the important time to discuss issues related to higher education.”