Tuition increase adds to available student aid

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One week after a University committee recommended a nearly 4-percent tuition increase per year over the next two years, it is still unclear how need-based financial aid would be affected if the increase were implemented.

The Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, which is composed of four student leaders, five faculty members and three non-voting advisory members, recommended tuition be increased by 3.95 percent per year over the next two years.

Though an increase would raise the cost of attendance, it would also increase the amount of money available for aid, said Tom Melecki, director of student financial services.

About 20 percent of each resident student’s tuition is set aside for funding financial aid, as the Texas Education Code mandates. More than $2 million would be added to available aid if an increase were implemented, he said.

Including a $65 per-semester fee for the construction of the new Student Activity Center, the increase translates to about $240 more in tuition each semester next year for each undergraduate.

He said it is difficult to know how financial aid will be affected if tuition is increased. The
ability to provide aid is determined by both the cost of attending the University and by the resources families can contribute to paying those costs.

“If the economy picks up and families are better to offer somewhat larger family contributions, that’s part of the equation, too,” Melecki said. “It’s not just the cost of attending, but it’s also what families can produce. We’ll know more about where families are at in April after families have filed FAFSA forms.”

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, takes salaries, children, assets and other factors into account when calculating an Expected Family Contribution, or the amount the government thinks a family is able to contribute toward a college education.

The amount of aid available also depends on how much the state and federal governments are willing to provide for grants, including the TEXAS Grant and the Federal Pell Grant, Melecki said.

“Given what’s going on in the economy now, I would strongly recommend every student file one of those FAFSA forms so we can see what a family can kick in toward college cost,” he said.

About 53 percent of undergraduate students and about 40 percent of graduate students receive need-based financial aid, Melecki said.

But some students, including social work senior Elizabeth Ender, say they have not received enough need-based financial aid, even though they filed a FAFSA.

Ender works two jobs, as an on-campus resident assistant and as a psychology lab research assistant, to help pay for her tuition. She said her jobs are affecting her grades.

“It’s a tough situation,” said Ender. “Obviously, it would suck if they raised tuition, but it sounds like if they don’t, education will be affected in the long run. I’m on the fence, but either way, it sucks.”

Without a tuition increase, the University would face budget shortfalls of more than $17 million during the 2010-11 school year and more than $14 million the following year, according to the committee’s recommendations.

The committee does not make decisions or recommendations about how the budget, aside from tuition, should be handled. But cutting the budget by more than $17 million could result in reductions in course availability, staff, equipment and academic and student-support services, said Kevin Hegarty, the committee’s co-chair and UT’s vice president and chief financial officer.

“Obviously, there’s never enough financial aid to go around to everybody,” Hegarty said. “But we would hope to protect the people in greatest need from the effect of the tuition increase.”