Middle-income Students Would Bear the Brunt of Tuition Deregulation

Sunday, June 8, 2003

Even though he is spending the summer in his hometown of New York City, 20-year-old University of Texas student Kenny Patterson has paid close attention to the tuition deregulation bill that made its way through the Texas Legislature. After learning that lawmakers voted to allow Texas' public universities to set their own tuition rates, he was irate -- his college future depends on how much it costs.

"Most students I know would not be for an increase in tuition. It's going to squeeze a lot of people out of school (who) can't afford it," Patterson said. "I'm an out-of-state student and my tuition is already high. I think somebody should stand up and say something about it."

University of Texas System Chancellor Mark Yudof and UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner both say it is too early to tell what effect the bill would have on tuition rates, but it's a safe bet they won't go down. Pressured by the rising costs of higher education and buildings that need repair, UT needs money. With state funding dropping, the money has to come from somewhere.

Yes, Patterson is right. College is expensive, and students and parents have no idea how much more expensive it's going to get.

Crumbling buildings aren't good, but neither is a big, fat fee bill. Given a choice between a stuffy classroom and, say, a $1,000 tuition increase from the previous semester, most students would probably take the stuffy room.

A provision in the deregulation bill, House Bill 3015, would allow the UT Board of Regents to offer students easy-term loans, grants and scholarships. That might help keep higher education accessible to students from middle-class families.

Until more specific information becomes available on the effect of tuition deregulation, though, students like Patterson and their families will have to wonder whether they will be able to afford UT. Thirty states already have adopted a form of tuition deregulation, and none have reduced rates.

Rising costs of higher education would surely squeeze some people from the university, and it will force them to go elsewhere for their degrees; some may have to drop out altogether.

If the bill becomes law, minimizing the loss of middle-income students will be a challenge Yudof and Faulkner will have to meet, because those students add as much to the university's vitality and verve as any building.