Success in graduation rates overshadowed by rising costs

Liam Verses

President Gregory Fenves announced last week that UT fell just short of its five year goal to boost four-year graduation rates to 70 percent (achieving 65.7 percent). Many recognize that getting people through college faster leads to greater affordability. However, students’ progress in graduating in fewer semesters does not make up for the tuition increases and additional costs they incur with more frequency.

UT students who graduated in 2014 left with nearly $25,000 in debt, an almost 20 percent increase from five years prior. UT strives toward excellence, but it has failed to reduce its role in the $1.3 trillion student loan crisis.

Statewide tuition went up 147 percent — at UT, 148 percent — in a 13 year period, beginning in 2002. Transcript costs doubled last year. Parking permit costs have gone up as well. Most crucial, though, are tuition and fee rates, which have more than doubled statewide in 15 years. The ramifications for UT students and their families are growing. Coping with tuition, housing and other miscellaneous academic and living costs saddles students with large debts. That’s unacceptable. People go to college to achieve their dreams, not financial insolvency.

University administrators are quick to blame declining state funds for the rising costs despite the fact that tuition has increased at twice the rate state appropriations have decreased. Other factors, then, must be driving up costs.

University administration nationwide has more than doubled in 20 years, far outpacing student or faculty growth. In fact, many colleges continue to shift teaching responsibilities from full-time faculty to part-time auxiliary faculty, partially offsetting the top-heavy payroll at colleges. From 1987 until 2012, American colleges added a mind-boggling 517,636 administrators and professional employees — or 87 per workday.

UT Austin’s personnel increased 5.8 percent from 2011 to 2016 despite a corresponding 0.3 percent decline in enrollment. UT System enrollment has increased only 3 percent from 2011 to 2016 while UT System personnel has grown by 17 percent. Along with the skyrocketing number of deans, directors and administrative assistants comes salaries well above the median income of a typical U.S. family. When colleges face a decline of state subsidies, they have one place to turn: you.

Federal aid also drives up costs by incentivizing colleges to raise prices. A study by the Federal Reserve of New York found that for each dollar of federally subsidized loans issued, tuition rises 65 cents, and that for each dollar of federal Pell Grants, it goes up 50 cents.

The money colleges get from tuition increases doesn’t seem to be ending up in the classroom or professors’ coffers, where it rightfully belongs, but rather in ridiculous construction, burgeoning administration (some of which is heavily necessitated by federal policy, like Title IX) and other nonessential areas.

The Texas Senate weighed a tuition freeze in this year’s Legislature, though their plan never materialized. However, a tuition freeze and cap on tuition growth would do some good in forcing schools to be more fiscally responsible.

While increasing four- and six-year graduation rates are laudable goals, they are not the sole measure of UT’s success. A consistent theme in public education is that money doesn’t get where it needs to go — that’s a shame, isn’t it?

Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio.