Engineering tuition may rise to improve school's rankings

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Tuition may increase by 5 percent for engineering students in the 2012-13 school year if a proposal by the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee passes in March, said the dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.

The increase is a last resort to the school’s budget after it was cut by 17 percent in all areas except faculty salary, said Gregory Fenves, dean of the engineering college.

“Any further cuts will be more like an amputation so that’s not an option without hurting the value of the engineer’s degree,” said Fenves Wednesday night at the school’s College Tuition and Budget Advisory Committee student forum.

He said the increases to the budget would still be small compared to those of other state universities.

“I know tuition increases are hard for families, but look at what’s going on around the country,” Fenves said. “Some states have 10 percent increases. We have been planning for this for three years, and we will keep the increase modest.”

He said a downgrade in the ranking of many fields within the college for 2012 is a motivation for the change in budget.

“Many rankings dropped drastically, and this is unusual,” Fenves said. “I believe word is being spread that the budget has been bad for our programs, so we need a plan so this does not become a reality.”

Only 30 percent of engineering freshmen graduate in four years and 50 percent graduate in six years, Fenves said. This is lower than other schools and a high student-to-faculty ratio is the main source of the problem, he said.

“Our student-to-faculty ratio is off the charts,” he said. “Our goal is to hire four new professors every year. This will ensure smaller, more comfortable classes as well as more accessible instructors and keep UT competitive.”

Fenves said if ranks continue to fall, professors will be tempted to leave UT for higher ranking universities and further heighten the issue.

“Our faculty is very intelligent, and we don’t want to lose them to other colleges,” he said. “We need to keep our faculty here by having a competitive environment.”

Mechanical engineering junior Zachary Wilhoit said he was open to the idea of paying a bit more for tuition if it meant he would receive a high quality education.

“While I know raising tuition isn’t very popular, I think you have made a very compelling argument,” Wilhoit said. “I came to a great engineering school, and I want to graduate from a great engineering school, and if this is what it takes, I’m all for it.”

Fenves’ argument that more faculty is needed was also met with support by electrical engineering junior Vik Parthiban.

“I really agree we should hire more professors,” Parthiban said. “That would help a lot.”