UT ranks high under Obama's proposed higher-education plan

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The President shakes hands with some of Manor New Technology High School's students as he made his way out of their gymnasium after delivering remarks on Thursday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Under a proposal made last week by the Obama administration in which universities nation-wide would be compared against one another for financial aid, UT officials said the University would rank well, resulting in increased financial aid for students. 

President Barack Obama’s higher education plan would rank colleges and universities and allocate financial aid according to the rankings. The plan, aimed to be in place by 2018, will be administered by the Department of Education.

The ratings system would use categories such as the percentage of financially-needy students admitted, affordability and other metrics to determine financial aid distribution, according to a White House statement. The ranking system would compare colleges and universities of similar missions, to fairly evaluate them within the same category. This would mean state universities and community colleges would not be compared side-by-side. The preliminary plan will need to be passed by both houses of Congress in order to take effect.

According to Thomas Melecki, UT director of Student Financial Services, the University stacks up well against its peer institutions. Compared to other state flagship universities, a large percentage of UT students receive Pell Grants, given by the federal government to low-income students who qualify.

The University also has a lower tuition rate than many of its peer institutions, In the 2011-12 school year, the University’s average in-state tuition was $9,790, which was lower than many other flagship universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.

“There are a lot of things here that suggest to me that we would score very well on any kind of data the government puts together,” Melecki said. “The extent that that will turn into more and better financial aid for our students, that will be a huge help to our body.”

Student Government Administrative Director Joshua Tang said if the University bodes well under the ratings system, it would improve the value of a UT degree for all students.

“If we can incentivize better fiscal management of higher education and boost academic performance of the students who receive financial aid, I think that can go a long way to solving some of the educational insecurities in our country,” Tang said.

Under the Obama plan, graduation rates would also be factored into the proposed ratings system. In a statement last week, UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said the University’s focus on students’ long-term success will be rewarded when UT is ranked on the new system.

“We currently have initiatives in place to boost our four-year graduation rates, which are already the highest in the state, and our six-year graduation rates are on par with our national peers,” Doolittle said in a statement.

Doolittle also said the University was supportive of the incentive-based financial aid as long as the institutions were graded on appropriate data.

According to Melecki, a large number of UT students would benefit from more financial aid due to rising living costs in Austin.

“The cost of going to the UT-Austin keeps rising, not because of what UT-Austin is doing. What’s driving the cost of going to UT-Austin up is being in Austin,” Melecki said. “Austin is the most expensive city in Texas in which to rent.”

Melecki said that students should pay attention as legislation from ideas set forth in the Obama plan is debated in Congress.

“The president has begun a dialogue; the question is how that dialogue will end up,” Melecki said. “There may be changes in this that may or may not serve our student body well. [Students] need to pay attention to this.”