University officials, state officials clash on tuition increases

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks at an event in support of presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Super Tuesday in Houston.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick strongly criticized Texas higher education institutions for raising tuition, suggesting the Texas Senate will attempt to limit tuition increases during the next legislative session. 

“We are pricing the average family out of a college education in the State of Texas, and we are saddling students and families with tremendous debt,” Patrick said at a press conference before a Texas Senate higher education meeting. “This has to end.”

Tuition will be raised at UT-Austin by $300 per semester by fall 2017. Patrick said the tuition increases were unwarranted, especially after the Legislature had appropriated $282 million dollars to higher education during the last session and implemented $3 billion in tuition revenue bonds. Patrick pointed to slides showing tuition and fees had risen 147 percent since 2003, while the median Texas household income had only risen 32 percent. 

“So many universities, immediately, before the [legislative] budget was dry, started raising tuition,” Patrick said. “People did not send us to Austin to allow our universities to raise their tuition five times higher than their salaries.”

Twenty percent of the tuition money collected is set aside for financial aid to students through scholarships or work-study. Patrick, who tried and failed to eliminate this practice as a former Texas senator, called it a “hidden tax” and called for its removal during the next legislative session. 

“We need scholarship funding, we need to help students in need, but the universities need to find that money or the legislature,” Patrick said. “They need to scrub their budgets like we scrub ours.”

Patrick said administrative costs for Texas public universities had increased by 149 percent in tandem with tuition increases. He also slammed bonus programs at public universities, pointing out that UT System Lands CEO Mark Houser recently received a $425,000 salary increase to $1.5 million.  

“If you go into higher education, you don’t go into it to get rich and make a million dollars a year,” Patrick said. 

UT spokesperson Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the salary increases for UT System executives were justified because they were tied to performance goals the executives met. Patrick said the University Board of Regents, which are nominated by the legislature, should expect tougher questions during the nomination process at the next legislative session. 

“I think that nomination process will include a lot more direct questions in the future,” Patrick said. “The [Board of Regents] need to understand their job is not to be a rubber stamp for higher education. They need to be a protector of the students and the families.”

Texas Senate Higher Education Meeting

  • After Patrick’s press conference, University leaders rebuffed some of Patrick’s arguments about higher education costs at a Senate meeting about higher education. 

Chancellor William McRaven defended tuition increases as necessary to keep UT competitive with other universities and providing value to students. He said college graduates from UT System institutions earn about 45 percent more on average than those who do not graduate, and the average of $20,000 that System graduates incur in debt is “manageable.” 

“It was a difficult vote for them to approve increases. What the student — and Texas — gets in return is a high return on investment,” McRaven said.  

Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said rising tuition costs were “troubling,” but said tuition increases were necessary in light of decreased state funding to universities. 

“Even with these tuition and fees [increases], Texas is still a relative bargain compared to other states,” Paredes said.

Data from the Tuition Advisory Policy Committee shows UT tuition, despite the increases, is still lower than that of its peer institutions. 

McRaven said tuition increases fund higher quality universities in Texas to make the state a more attractive place to attend college. He said more than 20,000 Texas high school graduates leave Texas every year to attend out-of-state universities. 

“We have to be of sufficient quality to keep our best and brightest students in Texas,” McRaven said. “No matter what the field, quality costs money. Higher education is no exception.”