UT ranks high in affordability, according to report

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UT received high marks for affordability in an annual finance report. Despite fears of tuition hikes, UT may be a better value than the report suggests, officials said.

For in-state student value, UT-Austin ranked 24th out of 500 universities studied by the Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine in its annual “Best Values in Public Colleges” report. The publication broke down its method of ranking as one that cross-analyzes cost data such as tuition, fees, room and board and financial aid for in-state and out-of-state students with academic data such as admission rate, test scores of incoming freshmen, and four- and six-year graduation rates.

Tom Melecki, director of UT’s student financial services, said UT ranked well because it managed to keep tuition increases lower than the national average.

“We are looking for efficiencies anywhere we can find them,” he said. “That has also allowed us to keep tuition increases at a minimum. Our last increase was 3.99 percent. That’s less than half the national average of 8.02 percent.”

Melecki said UT students might fair better than Kiplinger indicates because the report lists average debt upon graduation for students at $24,667, slightly higher than the $24,582 the office of student financial services calculated for May 2011 graduates.

Associate dean of student affairs Marc Musick also noted a slight disadvantage UT students had in the ranking.

“Many students leave with zero debt, and that is not taken into account in that figure,” Musick said.

Melecki agreed.

“Only 50 percent of students borrow when attending the university compared to the national average that ranges from 60 to 70 percent,” he said.

Melecki said that while Kilplinger factors in Austin’s high cost of living, it doesn’t factor in his office’s attempts to get students to lower costs through Bevonomics courses, publication of the UT 4 Less newsletter and other saving tips.

Melecki said one of the most important things for students to remember when managing their finances is to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 15, to ensure they are considered for need-based aid. He said although students may have un-met costs covered by financial aid, they should weigh benefits of attending UT when evaluating their finances.

In comparison to Texas A&M, which ranked 21st in the report, Melecki said UT’s four-year graduation rate of 52 percent was higher than Texas A&M’s rate of 46 percent. Texas A&M students’ in-state costs average $8,941 per semester after need based financial aid, compared to the $11,857 cost for UT students.

The only other Texas institution in the top 100 universities was UT-Dallas, ranked 46. Cost of attendance at UTD after need-based aid is $14,068 per semester for in-state students, and the school has a 42 percent four-year graduation rate.

Mario Villa, director of UT’s East Texas Admissions Center, said cost is often a factor for prospective students.

Villa said most students coming through the admissions center look more closely at rankings of individual programs, not overall rankings of UT.

“I never really hear families of prospective students mention these general university rankings like ‘I hear UT Austin was ranked 24th Best Public University by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine,’” he said.