UT System developing political strategy for tuition increases

Maria Mendez

New principles for tuition-setting guidelines were discussed and approved by the UT System Board of Regents this past Thursday.

Though the principles do not impact tuition immediately, they signal the development of a new strategy to gain the support of Texas politicians for possible future tuition increases. 

During last week’s board meetings, UT System Regent Sara Martinez Tucker, head of the Academic Affairs Committee, said the board wants UT universities to expand communication with stakeholders outside of university communities to explain the need for higher tuition.

“We want to reinforce the importance of an external relations strategy,” Tucker said. “Over the fall, you will have a lot of elected officials back at their home district. While we understand that it is in process and that you are thinking about (tuition), socialize with your elected officials what you’re thinking and what the impact will be on the families.”

The regents’ push for UT System universities to become “allies with the state leadership” follows questioning and alarm in recent years from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and legislators over UT Austin’s tuition increases in 2011 and 2016.

Tuition for this 2017 fall semester increased by $152 once again; approximately $300 has been added to the tuition price within the last two years.

The approved principles will become part of new guidelines for UT System universities to propose tuition. The Academic Affairs Committee is currently drafting the guidelines, and a date for implementation has yet to be set. Once released, UT System universities can draft tuition proposals, due in December to be voted on in February, for the 2019 and 2020 academic years.

When presenting the approved principles, Tucker said universities should demonstrate “a real need for any proposed increase,” and communicate it with “local champions.” Tucker added that universities should review data on tuition at peer institutions to best determine when increases are necessary.

Middle Eastern studies sophomore Raphael Jaquette said he sees the relationship between regents and legislators as complicated but necessary in making policy decisions.

“Politicians were absolutely right to question these tuition increases, and the University should continue to work with the legislature to outline reasonable alternatives to charging students more,” Jaquette said in an email. “However, the two will always be at odds, as long as the regents prioritize long-term institutional viability, and the legislature values immediate constituent satisfaction.”

Joey Williams, director of communications for the vice president and provost, said UT had not received any additional instructions or guidance from the Board of Regents. However, if UT were to propose a tuition increase, a Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, made up of students and University leadership, would convene.

“If that decision were to be made, the campus would be notified,” Williams said. “So (the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee) could start engaging the students and everybody on campus.”

Jaquette said he doesn’t think further tuition increases are necessary and the University should focus on affordability and cutting back on unnecessary expenses.

“As a student struggling through to pay my way through college, I want lower tuition rates,” Jaquette said, in an email. “I need lower tuition rates. But I also want the University to improve upon the programs and academics that make UT such a world-class research university.”