University delegates defend increasing tuition rates

By: Clint Johnson
The Daily Texan
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Increased university tuition was* necessary last year to offset increased enrollment and decreased state funding, several administrators told Texas legislators Tuesday.

*Quick UT Watch note: Last year, administrators said that there would be a number of short term cuts that would offset decreasing support from the state government. They said they couldn't really spend the money that they got this year from increased tuition since that money would go towards spending next year (2004-05 school year). However, they use the past tense here to describe how they've *already* spent the money. Well, which one is it?

UT Watch: Last year, the University of Texas at Austin decreased enrollment and increased state funding. In the fall semester of 2002, UT-Austin reported 52,261 students - an all-time high. However, in the fall of 2003 - the one that followed the deregulation of tuition that preceding spring - enrollment declined to 50,616. The following spring, the University's spring enrollment declined for the first time in six years, according to the Daily Texan (02/24/04).

Conversely, in the state's General Appropriations Act, UT-Austin received an increase of $2.449 million from their 2002-03 biennium total of $469.0 million to a 2004-05 biennium total of $471.4 million. Source: 2004-05 General Appropriations Act(pdf), prepared by the UT System, page 6. Although this isn't the big boost that UT wanted, UT administrators cannot correctly claim that state appropriations decreased.

The joint Legislative Oversight on Higher Education Committee heard testimony from delegates of several public universities, including seven from the UT System and four from the Texas A&M System. Administrators from the state's largest systems defended their rising tuition rates to a Legislature that has shown dwindling support for deregulation measures passed in 2003.

UT Watch: It's amazing that these schools sent their "delegates": System administrators and presidents of the component institutions, who lobbied against a majority of Texas students for tuition deregulation, and not the students affected by these increases.

After the Texas Legislature passed a bill relinquishing much of its tuition-setting authority for public universities during its last regular session, the University increased its yearly tuition for 2004 by $720 for full-time students. Several of the other schools reported similar increases. Most of the administrators said they could not keep pace with rising admissions without more state money, something the Legislature has said it will not provide.

Like many of his colleagues, UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof said System institutions are using most of the extra money to hire and retain faculty members and to renovate buildings. He said 21 percent of the System's total extra revenue went to scholarships, financial aid and student services.

Yudof: UT is using most of the extra money to hire and retain faculty members.
Actually, there were around 500 faculty and staff who lost their jobs last summer. Additionally, the faculty didn't receive a pay raise until this January, and money for renovation also decreased.

"As more than 50,000 students begin classes today, work must continue as it has in the past without 500 staff positions eliminated because of budget cuts." (Daily Texan, Aug. 27, 2003)

"Faculty and staff received a merit-based pay increase in September 2002, but did not receive one this September...Kevin Hegarty, chief financial officer, said the $1.4 billion budget was balanced in part by reducing spending on building repairs and renovations by $10 million." (Daily Texan, 09/16/03).

So, where's the money going, you might ask? Two new buildings started construction this past year: the $25 million Biomedical Engineering Building and $18 million Institute for Geophysics and Advanced Computing Center - neither of which are known to have classroom space since they're all for commerciable research. The $60 million Biological Science/Wet Lab Building at the corner of 26th and Speedway that will complete construction soon has 0 general classroom space, much like the Jim Bob Moffett building that borders it on the the south side.

See: Bevo Bucks the Students(pdf) for more information on all of this.

Despite criticism from some students, System and University officials have repeatedly praised tuition deregulation, saying it gives the institutions "flexibility" to cater to their students.

"Tuition deregulation has been a major tool in maintaining the quality of education at our universities," said Franklyn Jenifer, president of UT-Dallas.

It was this flexibility in setting tuition that lawmakers stressed. Rep. Fred Brown, R-College Station, praised universities that instituted unorthodox measures to increase the number of students who graduate within four years. Texas Tech began a new system in which students who still lack degree requirements after taking 15 hours of courses per semester for four years do not pay additional tuition. At UT-Tyler, students who pass 30 hours of courses in a year receive a free course during their senior year.

Brown said he wasn't unpleased with the progress made by the state's two flagship universities, UT and A&M, and asked Texas Tech Chancellor David Smith why it has been so hard for the larger universities to offer online courses, which would help reduce tuition. Brown also said he was concerned about the lack of progress toward improving four-year graduation rates.

"I don't want to see us sit around and discuss this until Jesus comes," he said. "We've got to take real steps to make something happen. I've heard all day, 'we're studying this and studying this.'"

The University has already implemented some changes geared toward boosting the four-year graduation rate, said Patricia Ohlendorf, the University's vice president for institutional relations and legal affairs. She said a flat-rate tuition system is being tested in two colleges at the University. Under the program, full-time students pay a set rate that is independent of the amount of hours taken. She called the program a success, and said the University is considering ways to renew it, possibly for the entire campus. The Legislature's authorization of the program expires next year.

Some have argued against the current flat-rate program, because it sets tuition at the previous cost of 14 hours, which critics say unfairly punishes students who take 12 or 13 hours.

UT Watch: An overwhelming majority of students take only 12 hours. Charging everyone the same price for 12 or 18 hours punishes most of the student body. This program has only been successful in divorcing students from their money.

See: Speeding Up the Students: UT as a Factory for more information.

Yudof said improving graduation rates will allow universities to serve more students.

"Imagine how many more new students we could absorb, if there weren't thousands and thousands of seniors hanging around," he said.

UT Watch: Wait, you've decreased enrollment, and now you want to "absorb" more? We're confused.

Critics have pointed to reasons why students might take additional years to complete a degree, such as the need to change majors or to work to pay tuition. Yudof said the System can improve graduation rates and still leave "wiggle room" for students to change majors and work.

"We're talking about students who are taking 200 hours and not graduating," he said.

UT Watch: Even though it's uncommon for students to have 200 hours under their belt, this is a state university. If students want to take longer, and they're still paying the tuition for it, that's their prerogative.

Yudof said a culture change among students and faculty would make them more flexible in the course times and locations they choose.

"We can't efficiently run a university if there's only a five-hour window where we can offer classes," he said.

Committee co-chair Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, criticized additional fees imposed by universities.

"As we give institutions more flexibility to meet the needs of their students, we must also start going away from the fees," she said.

UT Watch: Finally, we can agree with something that Shapiro says! Raising fees on top of tuition is not a good thing! Good job!