Setting the system standard

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Earlier this week, UT-Arlington President Jim Spaniolo recommended to the university’s tuition review committee a tuition freeze for the 2012-13 school year.

The freeze would be UT-Arlington’s first, as tuition has risen at the school each year since tuition was deregulated in 2003, according to The Texas Tribune, and follows decreased funding and support from the state.

UT-Arlington’s tuition review committee is largely composed of students and is the counterpart to UT-Austin’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, which is composed of nine voting members, including four students. TPAC will host an open forum Nov. 16 and will soon recommend a tuition rate to President William Powers Jr., who will submit a recommendation to the Board of Regents in December.

Undergraduate in-state tuition at UT-Arlington averages $9,292 per year, compared to UT-Austin’s $9,416 per year. If approved, UT-Arlington’s tuition freeze would respond to the rising cost of higher education and the increasing student debt. A poll released Wednesday by Demos and Young Invincibles indicates that three out of every four 18- to 34-year-olds believe college has become increasingly difficult to afford in the last five years, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This year, the regents have limited requests for tuition increases to 2.6 percent for undergraduates and 3.6 for graduate students across the UT System. Moreover, all requests for increases need to be tied to efforts to improve four-year graduation rates.

Given the recent budget cuts — which resulted in a $92-million reduction of UT-Austin’s budget over the current biennium — a tuition increase at UT-Austin seems inevitable. However, two years ago, the last tuition-setting year, each institution in the system requested a 3.95-percent tuition increase per year for the following two years, ultimately resulting in a 3.95-percent base increase across the system. The question now is whether institutions will try to align their requests again this year.

Spaniolo’s request for a tuition freeze is the first public indication in the system of an institution’s upcoming tuition policy. Other system institutions that would have used the Legislature’s higher education budget cuts to justify tuition increases will now need to find more individualized reasons for a tuition increase. Spaniolo’s decision to seek a tuition freeze shows that despite budget woes, institutions need not rely on a tuition increase to maintain their operations.

Of course, UT-Austin differs from UT-Arlington; UT-Austin is a Tier 1 university, while UT-Arlington aspires to attain Tier-1 status. TPAC should take Spaniolo’s recommendation into consideration but should also realize that UT-Austin’s needs may differ from other system institutions.