Texas universities debate tuition deregulation

By Kelly McAlister
University Daily (Texas Tech U.)

(U-WIRE) LUBBOCK, Texas -- Universities across Texas are attempting to find their own ways to deal with the potential tuition deregulation that may be imposed by the state Legislature.

The University of Texas Executive Vice President and Provost Sheldon Ekland-Olson said the university is in favor of tuition deregulation, which would allow universities Board of Regents to determine the cost of their institution's tuition.

"If the state could pay for it, we would prefer not to," he said. "But the state is not."

He said the quality of Texas universities will be damaged beyond repair if the Legislature cannot produce the money necessary for the universities or allow universities to find different sources of revenue.

"Some form of increased capacity for the universities to generate revenue has got to be found," Ekland-Olson said.

UT Student Government administrative associate Becky Carreon said the organization approved a resolution entitled, "Expressing the Fervent Opposition to Tuition Deregulation" on Jan. 28.

Megan Stephenson, a member of the executive branch of the Texas A&M Student Senate said their Senate approved a similar resolution at its last meeting.

Stephenson said the Student Senate does not support complete deregulation of tuition, but senators intend to work with the state Legislature if a bill is passed.

She said the Student Senate is opposed to shifting any more costs of education to students than is absolutely necessary.

Gov. Rick Perry requested all state institutions impose a budget cut to aid the state in its shortfall. The state has called for a 7 percent reduction in expenditures of the current fiscal year and a 12.5 percent decrease for fiscal years 2004 and 2005.

Texas Tech Vice Chancellor of News and Publications Cindy Rugeley said the topic of tuition deregulation was first proposed by Chancellor Mark Yudolf of the University of Texas System to allow for flexibility of setting tuition according to students' majors.

"(Deregulation) was not envisioned to let the state off the hook," she said. Instead, it was intended to compensate for lost money from the budget crisis. The problem with deregulation is once funding from the state has been cut, Rugeley said, it never comes back. This is when education becomes a tax on the parents.

She said the question then becomes "Do you adopt a policy that basically changes that way you deal with education?"

The state Legislature will be answering that question during the next few months. Tech officials have been in Austin, Texas, for the past week presenting their university needs to Legislature Board members.

Tech Chancellor Dr. David Smith said Tech does not want to deregulate tuition. He said he does not want to lose the partnership with the state.

The state currently funds 45 percent of the cost of tuition. Texas A&M and UT receive the same 45 percent, Smith said, however, they receive money from Permanent University Funds that Tech does not.

Smith said the cuts proposed by the governor have the potential to harm Tech.

"We are not willing to let Texas Tech go backwards," Smith said.

University officials are in Austin, he said, as part of the typical Legislature process, not because they are panicking.