UT System to state officials: Tuition increases won’t affect affordability

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Liutenant Governor Dan Patrick speaks at a campaign event for presidential candidate Ted Cruz on March 1 in Stafford, Texas. Patrick has expressed ‘alarm’ at the recent UT tuition increases.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System responded Thursday to a request from top state officials asking for information on student debt, college loan affordability and college completion rates. 

The system’s report defended recent tuition increases as necessary to the quality of their institutions. The letter cited statistics showing that UT-Austin students typically only pay 40 percent of the listed tuition price and that net tuition in 2014 was $500 less than in 2004 after tuition de-regulation. 

“UT System institutions are among the most affordable in the state, and modest tuition increases will not impact that,” according to the report.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senator Kel Seliger, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said they were “alarmed” by recent tuition increases at UT System institutions in a letter written in early March. The 84th legislature, the letter pointedly said, had provided for a “dramatic” increase in funding for higher education.

“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 costs,” said Patrick and Seliger in the letter. “The cost of higher education must remain at a level that is within reach of all Texans.” 

Tuition will be raised by $300 at UT-Austin by fall 2017, the first time tuition has increased since 2011.

Asked about plans to reduce student loan debt, the System report said 51 percent of students borrow money to attend UT-Austin compared to the national average of 69 percent. According to the report, programs such as the University Leadership Network and the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan help more students at risk of not graduating to graduate on time from UT in four years. 

According to the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, the state has only restored $50 million of funding to UT after cutting $92 million of funding in 2012-2013.

“For the education that we’re getting, we’re on the cheaper end,” said Xavier Rotnofsky, Student Government president and Plan II and linguistics senior. “In order to maintain where we are with our education and academics, tuition does need to be adjusted accordingly because if the state isn’t going to fund us, there’s no other place we’re going to get that money from.”

In a separate letter addressed to Patrick and Seliger, UT President Gregory Fenves said UT has an “exemplary record of offering an affordable education to all Texans.” Fenves included information in the letter showing that UT receives less funding from the state compared to other schools while keeping tuition low. 

“While tuition increases are never desirable, the UT-Austin proposal approved by the Board of Regents was designed to maintain the balance of sharing the costs of a first-class education among taxpayers, students and other sources of funds,” Fenves wrote in the letter. 

Fenves said unfunded mandates from the state, such as the Hazlewood exemption from tuition for military veterans and their dependents, puts pressure on tuition costs. At the same time, he said, tuition revenue has remained constant while state funding has decreased. 

“The fact we remain competitive with other national flagship institutions while receiving less money from taxpayers is clear evidence that UT is a bargain for these students, their families, and the State of Texas,” Fenves said in his letter.