Tuition antifreeze

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This week, students across campus will log on to the UT website to register for classes. Inevitably, some students, despite a slew of email reminders, will forget to pay for their classes and will subsequently be dropped from them and forced to re-register. However, for some students, that drop may not be the result of absent-mindedness next year. Given the current state budget cuts, there is a high likelihood that the Board of Regents will seek to raise tuition for the 2012-13 academic year. Meanwhile, some members of the Legislature are trying to preemptively prevent such an increase.

For example, HB 459, proposed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would freeze tuition at public institutions at current rates for the next two academic years. Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, proposed a similar bill, HB 261, that would freeze tuition for the next four years.

Public institutions of higher education across the state are facing massive cuts from state funding; UT has already begun to experience some of the effects.

Meanwhile, the cost of higher education continues to rise. UT’s current cost of tuition and fees for the 2010-11 school year is $4,778.25 for Texas residents taking 12 or more hours, a 3.95-percent increase from last year. Without a tuition freeze, the average cost will increase to about $4,969.42 for the 2011-12 school year.

While students would immediately benefit from the passage of this legislation in the face of rising tuition costs, the quality of higher education would be diminished in the long run. As a result, future students — those currently in middle school or high school — would suffer from an immediate tuition freeze as proposed by the two bills.

“I know that this will place a lot pressure on universities to maintain their quality of education without depending on money from increased tuition, but it’s the same pressure that families and businesses across Texas are currently feeling,” Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, author of HB 1515, which would freeze tuition for four years, said in a statement to The Daily Texan.

A tuition freeze would certainly place tremendous pressure on universities to maintain quality, a task that would be impossible with decreasing funding from the state and without additional revenue from increased tuition, which together compose about 40 percent of UT’s budget. Universities would undoubtedly be forced to minimize faculty and staff and reduce academic programs and areas, leading to increased class sizes, fewer course offerings and an overall decrease in quality of education.

In fact, a four-year tuition freeze could cost the University $230 million in potential revenue, assuming UT would have raised tuition 3.95 percent each of the four years as it did for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years, Mary Knight, associate vice president of UT’s budget office, told the Texan in March. This is a significant number, particularly when the University is already projecting an $80- to $100-million cut to its budget for the 2012-13 biennium.

Reducing the burdensome cost of higher education for students is an important goal, but a tuition freeze would be catastrophic for higher education. Rather than propose a tuition freeze, legislators should opt to preserve funding for universities as much as possible to help students and the state in the long run. A slight increase in revenue dispersed among Texas’ 25 million citizens would present a minute burden compared to the burden of the rising costs of higher education on college students. Legislators interested in helping students can still alleviate the strain by taking another look at the House’s budget proposal, HB 1, which cuts funding for higher education by millions.