Tuition rates increased 134% in last decade, report shows

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UT increased tuition and fees by 134 percent since 1999, according to a new report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Adjusted for inflation, the University raised tuition at the second-highest rate among its 11 peer institutions, which UT uses for national comparison purposes. In-state tuition and fees rose from $4,020 in 1999 to $9,418 in 2010. Among peer universities, only UC-Berkeley’s tuition and fees had a higher percentage increase at 139 percent.

The biggest spike came the spring after tuition deregulation passed in 2003, when UT increased its in-state tuition and fees by 57 percent. Since tuition deregulation, UT increased its tuition and fees 91 percent overall.

The state faced a projected budget shortfall of $10 billion in 2003 and state leadership asked the UT System to cut 7 percent of its budget.

The UT System responded by proposing to give free tuition to students whose families earn less than $41,000 in exchange for tuition deregulation, a measure to transfer tuition-setting authority from the state legislature to the UT System Board of Regents.

Charles Miller, then-chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, said tuition deregulation would not necessarily mean an increase in tuition.

“People will eventually see that this is a better way to do this if they examine it carefully over time,” Miller said in 2003.

State agencies, including UT, once again face the possibility of a 10 percent budget cut during the next legislative session after a 5 percent budget cut this year. But the regents and other chief administrators have not considered raising tuition to make up for those cuts as they wait for more concrete information on the budget, said Kevin Hegarty, UT’s chief financial officer.

Hegarty said although tuition increases in 2004 and 2006 were relatively large — UT raked in $9 million more in tuition in 2004 — they followed years of small increases while the state legislature regulated tuition despite the rising costs of higher education.

“There were a number of years that went by, during which the way UT had balanced its budget was to provide less-than-market salary increases and not maintain its buildings,” Hegarty said.

After the two large increases, the following increases were relatively small, he said. According to UT data, the average tuition increase was 13 percent from 1990 to 2003 and only 8 percent from 2003 to 2009 — last year, it rose 4 percent.

Mark Kantowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, said the problem is not tuition deregulation, it’s the reduction in state support of the institution and state legislatures’ tendency to increase tuition substantially only when they have to.

Kantowitz said it’s not unusual for states to have several years without substantial tuition increases followed by a very large increase.

“When the colleges themselves can control tuition, it’s much less likely to go through these cycles,” he said.

Adjusted for inflation, state support actually decreased by 1 percent per year since 1990 and tuition surpassed state funds as a source of the University’s revenue, according to a UT report on tuition. Tuition increases could have been “substantially lower” during those years if the state had provided more funding, according to the report.

Kantowitz said during recessions, public universities often raise tuition by double digits because of falling state revenues.

“The first thing they cut is support of higher education,” he said.