UT regents to ask for tuition deregulation

By Yvonne Lim
Daily Texan
December 20, 2002, Friday

The University of Texas System Board of Regents will plan their strategy for the 2003 legislative session at an ad hoc meeting Dec. 13.

"The meeting is largely being held to allow regents and the chancellor to settle upon goals for the legislative session. It's important for them to settle their approach," said UT President Larry Faulkner.

Charles Miller, chairman of the Board of Regents, said that the meeting's primary concern is tuition deregulation, which he said would optimize funding for the UT System. Miller said that current statutory limitations restrict the System's ability to operate.

Currently, limits on tuition and fees are determined by the state Legislature.

"We don't have the ability to differentiate -- one size doesn't fit all," Miller said.

Miller said that the aim of deregulation is not to gain the ability to raise tuition, but to gain the ability to set different tuition rates for different programs in the manner practiced by private institutions.

"They [tuition and fees] tend to be set arbitrarily, maybe rigidly, without differentiation," Miller said. "The costs are much different. That's an inefficient and ineffective way to set it."

Texas Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said that the issue of the Board of Regents' ability to determine tuition has been discussed with the Legislature before.

"I would have to be convinced that is what is absolutely necessary at that time," Barrientos said. "I'm not sure the Legislature is ready to turn over that action to the Board of Regents."

Barrientos said he would need more information to decide.

"I'm not sure where all of the regents are in terms of their philosophies, how much to raise tuition, what concern they have about economically poor students, middle-class students, minorities and women," Barrientos said.

An update on an undergraduate tuition study begun this September is also on the board's agenda for the meeting.

Vice Chancellor Tonya Brown said the study looks at the distribution of tuition by income level as well as the impact deregulation would have on tuition. Rather than looking at the impact tuition has on the student body as a whole, Brown said the study breaks down tuition by family income. The study also considers the cost the UT System would assume to make up for tuition increases for students on need-based financial aid.

Related to the issue of deregulation, the board will also seek to retain a greater amount of the income earned by its universities.

The state currently lays claim to a portion of the income the universities receive through research grants, a practice Miller described as a "tax on research."

"That's extremely unfair and a detrimental policy," Miller said.

Miller said that deregulation on tuition and research income would also benefit the System by attracting more donations and generate more money through investment.

"If we're not given those freedoms, then we're destined to have an inferior system," Miller said.