UT Watch Challenges President Faulker on Tuition Facts
October 7, 2005
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jim Spangler (214) 288-5162
UT Watch Challenges Dr. Faulkner's "Facts" on Tuition at UT-Austin
Since outgoing UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner feels it necessary to condescendingly correct journalists who "sensationalize" tuition hikes, UT Watch would like to join in the game by issuing a correction to Dr. Faulkner's correction. On September 28th, Faulkner wrote a letter to the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle, accusing the newspaper of "seriously distort[ing] the facts and expos[ing] your newspaper's failure to examine the issues thoroughly." On the September 26th, the newspaper had lambasted Texas universities, including UT-Austin, for being "quick to hike tuition but slow to help strapped middle-class students." The Texas Exes, UT-Austin's alumni association, quickly picked up on Faulkner's rebuttal, passing along Faulkner's remarks as gospel truth to Longhorn alumni via the Exes' enormous electronic mailing list. This follows a consistent pattern whereby the alumni association reflexively follows the UT administration's lead. For example, the Texas Exes recruited their membership to lobby for tuition deregulation and other administrative pet projects during the 2003 state legislative session.
As UT-Austin students and alumni, we have watched the cost of education skyrocket at Texas universities, especially UT-Austin, while administrators build lavish facilities, pay themselves CEO salaries, and push for legislation that does nothing to make public universities in Texas more affordable and more accessible to all qualified Texans. Many of us carry staggering debts; others never graduated due to financial duress; most distressingly, many would-be Longhorns in Texas never had the chance to attend UT because of the increasingly elitist character of the University, a trend directly related to rising tuition and fees.
The last time Dr. Faulkner wrote a letter to the Houston Chronicle it was to call a respected member of his faculty "an undiluted fountain of foolishness." Now he writes to defend his legacy in the name of attempting to tell the truth. But he does so in a characteristically disingenuous way. We won't comment on the state auditor's report other than to echo their frustration at public universities' "unique accounting methods." In our experience, UT-Austin seems to revel in opaque procedures that would make Arthur Anderson blush. As a public university, especially one whose leadership tries to get infinite mileage out of "accountability," UT-Austin simply must make it easier for actuaries and auditors to understand what's occurring financially, not to mention the people of Texas.
What follows is a brief attempt to undo some of Faulkner's deliberate obfuscation on tuition and fees at UT-Austin. We have chosen to focus solely on Faulkner's attempt to downplay the increasing cost of attending UT-Austin since that is where our expertise lies. The box below contains the first portion of Faulkner's letter to the Chronicle. The UT Watch commentary follows in italics.
Mr. Jeff Cohen
Dear Mr. Cohen:
The Houston Chronicle's September 26 editorial, "Texas universities were quick to hike tuition but slow to help strapped middle-class students," seriously distorted the facts and exposed your newspaper's failure to examine the issues thoroughly. Your editorial board's position is in direct conflict with the detailed findings and conclusions of the State Auditor's Office (SAO) in its recently issued report.
Here is a point-by-point summary of how your editorial board's opinion stacks up against the facts:
It is true that "designated tuition" has increased 54% at UT Austin over the several years since the deregulation of tuition, but the cost of attending the University has not risen by anywhere near such a percentage. "Designated tuition" is only a fraction of tuition and is an even smaller fraction of the total cost any student pays to attend a Texas public university, because statutory tuition and fees also account for a substantial share of the total cost of attendance. The State Auditor's report summarizes the average annual increase in the total cost of attendance from 2001-2005. At UT Austin the average total cost of attendance rose a modest 3.8% annually, in line with increases in cost of living indexes for the same period and well below the increases at other Texas institutions included in the report...
There are a number of ways to parse how much an education at UT-Austin costs and how much it has risen over the years. The Chronicle chose one way - a legitimate one - by looking at how much "designated tuition" has gone up. This is the portion of tuition that was "deregulated" by the Legislature after the UT administration aggressively pushed for it in the 78th Legislature, possibly using illegal means. Faulkner chooses to look at the "total cost of attendance," which includes all costs associated with going to school at UT-Austin: tuition, fees, housing, food, textbooks, transportation, entertainment, medical expenses, travel, toothbrushes, football game tickets, burnt-orange gear, etc. Except for tuition and fees - and housing/food for on-campus students - these other expenses are independent of the University. Thus it makes no sense to include these expense factors in trying to determine how much more the University is charging its students for the same education year-in and year-out - unless of course you're trying to downplay something.
Still, Faulkner does a very clever thing: He uses a 3.8 percent ANNUAL increase to mask the actual dollar amounts involved in the increases in the total cost of attendance between 2001 and 2005. If the total cost of attendance goes up 3.8 percent each year for a four-year period that can translate into thousands of dollars. For example, according to UT's statistics, the total cost of education for one year (for a Texas resident living on campus) at UT-Austin was $14,505 in 2001. In 2005, this same student is paying $18,876 for one year - a 30 percent increase. Sadly, this figure is probably on the low side since UT assumes in its calculations that students spend no more than $1000 each year on transportation and no more than $2100 on "personal/miscellaneous," a category in which presumably medical costs, child care, and other costs fall.
The most holistic way, one that should appeal to both the Chronicle and to University administrators, is to look at TOTAL tuition over a particular time period. Based on UT's own figures, newspapers - including the Chronicle - have reported that after deregulation, tuition/fees at UT shot up 37 percent on average for an undergraduate. That was in a two-year period between 2003 and 2005 and a direct result of tuition deregulation, which most students opposed.
In his analysis, Faulkner chooses to concentrate solely on the time period between 2001 and 2005. To arrive at his 3.8 percent annual growth figure, he throws in tuition and fees increases along with all other costs associated with an education, as we noted above. But isolating tuition and fees for this time period is a more accurate way to gauge how much it costs for the average undergraduate to take a full load of classes at the University - the fundamental service UT provides. In 2001, tuition and mandatory fees for a liberal arts student taking 15 hours were $2039. This fall that same student will pay $3486. Making matters worse, a 12-hour student will also pay $3486, no matter that they are getting much less bang for their buck. UT calls it "flat-rate"; working students and individuals who value taking their time call it a "flat-rip-off." One caveat: UT now includes course fees in the "pricetag" for a semester. But even if we subtract $400, a generous estimate, from the 2005 amount, we still find a 51 percent increase in tuition/fees over just the four-year period from 2001 to 2005. Faulkner argues that UT's "average total cost of attendance rose a modest 3.8% annually... well below the increases at other Texas institutions included in the report." Yet a recent study released by the National Center for Educational Statistics shows finds that the average increase in tuition and fees for four-year public institutions was 33 percent between 2001 and 2005. No matter how you slice it, UT-Austin's 51 percent increase during this same time period was substantially above even this astronomical average increase nationwide.
If we take an even more longitudinal perspective, we gain an even better idea of how much tuition and fees have skyrocketed at UT-Austin. In 1995, tuition and all mandatory fees for a student taking 15 hours in liberal arts would have cost $983 per semester, which works out to a 213 percent increase in ten years. If we go way, way back to 1970 when many baby-boomers and UT administrators were in school, we discover to our surprise that all tuition and fees for this same student would have cost $104. That's right $104! Even adjusting for inflation, that's a 562 percent increase. Those are numbers that no legislator, university administrator, or citizen can ignore.
 The Daily Texan, Feb. 12, 2003; The Alcalde, Jan./Feb. 2003)