Chancellor McRaven, state lawmakers clash in tuition regulation debate

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Texas legislators and UT System administrators are squaring off over the role of the legislature in setting — or limiting — University tuition rates.

Six separate bills in favor of state tuition regulation have been filed in the House and the Senate, and UT System Chancellor William McRaven has spoken out as an opponent of the policy change. In an interview with the Texas Tribune on Thursday, McRaven said he does not support tuition regulation and thinks universities should continue to have control over their tuition rates. 

University Designated Tuition was deregulated in 2003, allowing universities to set their own tuition rates. Since then, in-state tuition has risen on average from $2,721 to $4,905 per semester, though for the past four years in-state tuition prices have remained relatively consistent. Out-of-state tuition was increased by 2.6 percent in fall 2014.

“[Deregulation] that was put in place in 2003 has simply failed,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).

McRaven said he is in favor of keeping decisions regarding tuition in the hands of the Board of Regents. 

“I do think we need to continue to have tuition deregulated,” McRaven said in the interview. “We need to be smart and thoughtful about how we have tuition increases.”

Geetika Jerath, president of the Senate of College Councils, said she agreed with the chancellor and said it is important students and University officials have a say in tuition.

“Tuition has not been raised significantly under their control,” Jerath said in an email to the Texan. “Students are involved in the process that decides tuition when a tuition proposal is requested by the Board, and this is critical. We need to secure our voice because tuition affects every student.”

In-state, undergraduate tuition for one long semester at UT ranges from $4,673 in the College of Liberal Arts to $5,369 in the McCombs School of Business.

Schwertner said he is worried student debt will derail students from college.

“I’m concerned about the students that we have on our higher-education campuses,” Schwertner said. “They are getting out of school mired with debt and frustrated with the lack of opportunities.”

It is important to maintain a high quality education while keeping tuition affordable and student debt low, according to state Rep. Walter Price (R-Amarillo).

“What’s the use of having the best universities if students can’t afford to attend them?” Price said.  

McRaven said a majority of students from low-income families receive the best deal possible.

“Those families that are earning under $40,000 [per year], most of them don’t pay anything for tuition and fees,” McRaven said in the interview. “if you look at the statistics, you say is it a good deal — it’s not only a good deal, it’s a great deal.”

In comments to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, McRaven said lowered tuition could prove damaging to the quality of education the University provides.

“If you want to make college so affordable that the quality of education comes down, then I don’t think that affordability is worth a return on your investment,” McRaven said.

Price said he supports student control of university fees outside of designated tuition, if the student body voices their desire for the fee.  

“Every university has its own unique characteristics and needs,” Price said. “If there is a need to maybe have a fee to create something students can enjoy on campus, we’re not trying to limit that.”