Most oppose tuition cap lift

By: Patrick Mcgee, Staff Writer
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Monday, February 28, 2005

Public university tuition in Texas rose by about one-third last academic year, and most Texans think lawmakers should not have given these institutions the power to raise their own tuition.

According to a Scripps Howard poll released Saturday, 58 percent of Texans believe that the Legislature was wrong to lift the tuition cap in 2002 and unleash a rash of tuition increases, one as high as 37 percent.

Mike Gallia of Denton has two sons studying at the University of North Texas at Denton, and he said he does not think the tuition cap should have been lifted.

"If they open it up, it can get out of hand," he said. "It's a state institution so people who can't afford private institutions can go there."

UNT's tuition and fees have increased 26 percent since the Legislature removed the cap. Tuition and mandatory fees at UNT now cost an in-state resident $2,780.65 for 15 semester credit hours, or about five classes, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, tuition and fees went up 20 percent over the same period to $2,650.20.

Joseph Rodriguez said that's too much.

The UT-Arlington senior said his financial aid package did not increase to keep up with tuition increases, so he had to increase the number of hours he works at an Office Depot warehouse from 25 to 30 or sometimes 40 hours a week.

"It hurts me financially," the 22-year-old kinesiology major said, adding that he had to take out more loans.

UT System regents will meet March 10 to consider tuition increases for their universities, including a 5 percent increase for UT-Arlington and a 4.75 percent increase for the University of Texas at Austin.

Tuition and fees have increased 37 percent at UT-Austin since the tuition cap was lifted. Tuition and fees increased 21 percent at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The Scripps Howard Research Center surveyed 1,000 adults between Jan. 27 and Feb. 14. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The tuition increases come while financial aid is shifting from grants to loans, said George Torres, vice president for congressional and legislative relations at the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corp.

"Loans are going to be it," Torres said. "There's just going to be a bigger demand on student loans as the grant and work-study money stagnates."

President Bush has proposed increasing the need-based federal Pell Grants for college students, and the state has pumped a 20 percent increase into TEXAS Grants, but it's not enough to keep up with the need.

More than 82,000 eligible freshmen were denied TEXAS Grants, according to the state comptroller's office.

One of them was Stephen Eyre, a 21-year-old UT-Arlington sophomore who said university officials told him he would get a TEXAS Grant. When he didn't, Eyre and his parents, who live in Cleburne, had to take out more loans instead.

Despite that, Eyre, a theater arts major, said he does not think the tuition increases were unfair.

"It's one of those things that is something that goes up," he said.

Eighty-one percent of respondents to the Scripps Howard poll said they believe that Texas universities are a good value for the education they offer.

UNT President Norval Pohl said he was encouraged to hear that and wants the public to know that his university raised tuition only because the state has cut funding so drastically.

"The state gave us less than a 2 percent increase in our general revenue while our enrollments went up 15 percent," he said. "We're barely able to stay even. In fact, we lost a little bit of ground ... but I think we maintained our quality."

Pohl said that the next tuition increase at UNT would depend on how much funding the Legislature gives the university, but that it could range from $30 to $250 per semester.