by Minjae Park
AUSTIN (THE TEXAS TRIBUNE) - In-state tuition for University of Texas at Austin undergraduates will hold steady for the next two years, but nonresidents and graduate students will pay more in tuition. Most students in the University of Texas System will also pay more for school in the next two years after UT System regents today approved all requests, except UT-Austin's, to raise tuition.
UT regents today also committed to developing medical schools in Austin and South Texas. The plan to build an Austin-based medical school will receive up to $30 million a year from the state's Available University Fund, as long as UT-Austin can raise $35 million annually and continues to receive support from the Seton Healthcare Family, a Central Texas healthcare provider.
Most students in the UT System will see their tuition raised 1 percent to 2 percent in each of the next two years. Only the University of Texas at Arlington did not request an increase.
UT-Austin President Bill Powers had proposed increasing undergraduate tuition rates by 2.6 percent for Texas residents and 3.6 percent for nonresidents and all graduate students in each of the next two years. The regents rejected the in-state tuition increase for undergraduates but approved the hike for graduate students and a 2.1 percent increase for nonresident undergraduates.
"I'm disappointed that our proposal was not adopted," Powers said. "It was very carefully worked out. It was worked out in consultation with students. It takes into account a very strong concern with costs of higher education for students and their families."
In a statement before the vote, UT Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell spoke in support for freezing in-state undergraduate tuition, citing the need to reduce the burden on students and their families.
"As we move forward with excellence, we also have to bring forward with us the children of Texas," Powell said.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that has pushed for controversial higher-ed reform efforts, endorsed the regents' vote on UT-Austin tuition in a news release: "Tuition and student loan debt at Texas universities have reached record highs, and higher education costs have far outpaced inflation and every other sector of the economy. This two-year tuition freeze is a much-needed and long-overdue reprieve."
To make up for the revenue Powers had hoped to raise for UT-Austin from in-state tuition hikes, the board allocated $6.6 million each year to the school from the state's AUF for the next two years. All other schools in the UT System will also share around $8 million from the AUF in each of the next two years to offset some of the tuition increases. The regents made clear that the money was not guaranteed after two years and stressed the need for schools to find cuts and efficiencies in their budgets.
"It will help, to some degree," Powers said. "But when we plan curricula, course redesign, advising, we set up programs that, to be effective, have to persist into the future. If one sees the budget of any organization, be it a business, a university, there is a tremendous difference between onetime allocations and solid, recurring allocations."
In recommending tuition increases along with Powers, the university's Tuition Policy Advisory Committee said extra revenue was needed for UT-Austin to remain competitive with its peers by recruiting and retaining talent, and improving four-year graduation rates. The extra money raised would have gone toward programs such as academic advising, expanding and improving core course offerings, improving career services and redesigning courses.
"Every penny of our proposal was designed and would be directed toward student success programs," Powers said.
Powers' recommendations, if approved, would have raised UT-Austin's revenue by $35 million over the next two years — far short of the $78.3 million TPAC said were the university's unfunded needs. The shortfall will be greater under the tuition plan approved by the regents.
The Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of prominent alumni and higher-ed boosters, criticized the regents' vote in a news release: "The Board of Regents claims to support efforts to improve four-year graduation rates, which would ultimately save families and students more money than the cost of a modest tuition increase, yet the board refused to fund the very programs that would improve student success."
The vote on the new medical schools, whose opening dates aren't clear, were welcomed by university officials and legislators.
Powers said that such an institution in Austin would increase UT's already sizable impact on the state and the world.
"The founding of a medical school would be an enormous event in the life of the university, would offer dramatic new opportunities for our students and our faculty, and would advance health care in Central Texas," Powers said.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who has long supported efforts to bring a medical school to Austin praised the regents' decision.
"It will be a major contribution to the health of all Texans and I mean that both in the sense of the personal health but also in the economic health of the state," he said.
The South Texas medical school will be established in three existing academic and research buildings at the Regional Academic Health Center's medical education and research divisions. The center, located in San Antonio, receives state funding. Support for the medical school will depend on establishing residency programs in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and Willacy counties. The UT System will pursue funding for the school in the upcoming legislative session.
"We will be successful," state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, told the board before its vote. "You will be proud of what we do in South Texas. Our foundation is strong and any indication otherwise is totally wrong. We are ready and I'm here to make sure all of you know and understand that."