To great surprise, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted to increase the tuition by 3.1 percent for the 2016-2017 academic year and an additional 3 percent for 2017-2018. The increase in tuition will cost each student about $300 more each semester. The Tuition Advisory Policy Committee has noted that this tuition rate increase will directly be going to student success initiatives to increase the four-year graduation rate, expand research programs and raise faculty salaries and campus facilities.
However, state officials seem to have sympathized with student concerns over this rise in tuition rates, prompting harsh comments last week from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He suggested that by next session, the Texas Senate will attempt to curb tuition increases through new policy.
“We are pricing the average family out of college education in the state of Texas, and we are saddling students and families with tremendous debt,” Patrick said at a press conference before a Texas Senate higher education meeting. “This has to end.”
On face, Patrick’s claim to curb tuition prices may seem like an average college student’s dream — at least, up until you actually delve into what he specifically has planned.
Aside from reclaiming power of setting tuition rates like the government last did in 2002, Patrick plans to eliminate a provision made by the University that diverts a portion of tuition toward financial aid programs. Such a plan seems somewhat hypocritical, especially when the government intends to curb the tuition to decrease the burden for student. If Patrick is successful, the government would hurt the people that need such a plan — students from a lower-income households. The Austin American-Statesman Editorial board wrote about Lt. Gov. Patrick missing the mark for his proposed plan to curb college tuition.
“Missing from Patrick and other Republican state lawmakers’ ideas is any indication of wanting to invest significant state money into higher education,” wrote the Statesman. “That’s a critical missing piece of the tuition-crisis equation. The student-loan crisis is a result of this shifting of the cost of higher education to students. And those paying the hardest price are poor and middle-class students.”
Beyond just wanting to cut funding to financial aid programs, the Texas Senate last legislative term opted to eliminate setting aside the “B-On-Time” loan program — a program which would have forgiven loans for students that, as the name suggests, graduated on time with at least a B average, regardless of financial need. Although Lt. Gov. Patrick may claim that he and the state government want to curb tuition rates to lessen the burden of debt onto the student, the reality of the situation is that they have done nothing, nor will their plans do so in the future.
Another question arises when delving into the intricacies of government policy and higher education: Do we want the state government to regulate tuition prices? According to a comprehensive study conducted by the Dallas Morning News, when the government was responsible for setting the tuition, before 2003, on average prices actually increased more than they do now with universities controlling the increase. This is probably because schools understand how to regulate their tuition rates significantly better than a distant government.
Does there need to be some sort of action to curb the increasing cost of college tuition and the student debt crisis? Absolutely. Is the solution increased government regulation over tuition prices? Not in this state. There is a problem, but the way in which the state government intends to solve it doesn’t align with current student demands, nor do they have a decent track record in doing so.
Choudhury is an economics freshman from Richardson. He is a senior columnist Follow him on Twitter @MubarratC.