Public universities should cut costs instead of raising tuition, state officials say

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Dan Patrick speaks at a Ted Cruz watch party on Super Tuesday. Patrick expressed his disapproval of recent tuition increases in a letter addressed to public university presidents.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

High-ranking state officials criticized recent tuition increases by UT-Austin and other public universities in a letter sent to public university presidents and chancellors Friday.

“It is discouraging to see Texas higher education institutions seek to increase the financial burden faced by students and their families rather than developing methods to cut institutional costs,” wrote Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Kel Seliger, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. 

The letter asks for universities to submit a detailed list of information on tuition increases, a history of tuition increases since the 2002-03 academic year, institutional plans to reduce student debt, four-year completion rates and financial aid received from state and institutional investments to Patrick and Seliger’s offices by March 31. 

The letter comes five days after the UT System Board of Regents voted to increase tuition at UT-Austin by a total of $304 a semester by fall 2017. Fenves acknowledged in a letter sent to students hours after the vote that a tuition increase was “not welcome news” for students and their families, but said the tuition increase will “help UT provide the first-class education the Texas Constitution mandates.” 

Both UT-Austin and the UT System said they would comply with the requests for information by state officials. 

“We appreciate the concern of Senate leaders and look forward to providing the requested information and continuing the dialogue about the needs of UT System institutions and their students,” said UT System spokesperson Karen Adler via email.

The letter points out that the legislature increased funding for higher education during the most recent legislative session and said they were “alarmed” that state universities had increased or were considering raising tuition. Universities, the letter said, should develop methods to “cut institutional costs.” 

“These increases, combined with excessive bonus programs, indicate that our state universities have lost sight of their primary mission to provide a high quality education at an affordable cost to Texas families,” reads the letter. “Student debt is already at an all-time high, with students taking longer to complete their degrees and incurring a greater amount of debt each year.” 

The legislature reduced funding to UT by $92 million during the 2012-2013 biennium. While the legislature has restored $50 million of that funding to UT since then, a gap still remains. A tuition increase fills up some of the money in that gap, according to the Tuition Advisory Policy Committee website. 

Rachel Osterloh, president of Senate of College Councils and a member of the Tuition Advisory Policy Committee, said the legislature is hypocritical to expect UT to remain competitive without providing them the proper funding.  

“We begrudingly accept the tuition increase as a way to get the money that we need,” Osterloh, a government and philosophy senior, said. “The number one option would be the Texas legislature giving us more money.”

This is not the first time Patrick has criticized tuition increases. When the UT System considered a framework to increase tuition last fall, he said higher education institutions were funded at “historic levels” and suggested they look for alternatives to increasing tuition. 

“I encourage [the Board of Regents] to remember that we must keep the cost of college tuition at a level that is within reach of all Texans,” Patrick said in a October statement.