UT System presidents support fixed tuition, despite mixed results

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Fixed-rate tuition has been implemented at UT System institutions with varying success, UT System officials told Texas lawmakers Wednesday.

The Texas House Higher Education Committee considered a bill, filed by committee chairman Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, that would require universities to offer students a fixed-rate tuition plan as one option among other payment plans. The UT System Board of Regents voted on Feb. 14 to direct all system institutions to offer a four year fixed-rate tuition plan to incoming freshmen beginning fall 2014. 

Currently, a student’s tuition at UT is subject to change year to year. Various lawmakers and administrators — including Gov. Rick Perry — trumpeted fixing tuition as a way of controlling costs for students and incentivizing them to graduate in four years. But, four-year fixed tuition also gives universities less flexibility when dealing with budgetary changes.

Speaking to the committee, UT-El Paso President Diana Natalicio said the university’s optional guaranteed tuition program has not gained significant traction since its adoption in 2006.

“Some of our freshmen, we thought, would be interested in this and, particularly, we thought some parents would be interested in it,” Natalicio said. “What we discovered was that the response was lukewarm, at best.”

Natalicio said many students at UT-El Paso are considered “at-risk,” meaning that they have a low income and work part-time jobs, which may prevent them from making long-term financial plans in regard to their educational career and deter them from taking part in the program. 

UT-Dallas President David Daniel said the University implemented its guaranteed tuition program to act as one component of an effort to increase four-year graduation rates. Daniel said graduation rates at UT-Dallas increased from 32 percent in 2005 to 51 percent this year.

“I readily confess that I’m not sure how important the four-year tuition plan truly was in that, but my sense is that it has been a very important component in sending the message to everyone that this is what we expect,” Daniel said.

UT-Dallas and UT-El Paso are the only universities in the system that offer fixed-rate tuition over four years. UT-Dallas has the highest tuition among public universities in the state. 

Branch said he does not believe implementing the plan would act as a “silver bullet” to high college costs, but said it would help students and their families plan financially for their college careers among other goals.

“This is designed to be a tool in the toolbox to improve certainty, to improve affordability and hopefully to motivate completion early,” Branch said.