Facing inaction from Board of Regents, University decides not to increase graduate tuition

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Because of inaction on the part of the UT System Board of Regents to address a proposed increase in graduate school tuition, the University Budget Council has decided not to increase graduate tuition for the fall 2013 semester. 

“We had no other choice,” said Michael Morton, president of the Senate of College Councils and the student representative on the budget council. “We can’t raise tuition without [the board’s] authorization, and if they’re going to take up that issue well after we need to publish tuition rates for graduate students, this is really the best option.”

Regents typically set tuition for all of the System’s schools for two-year periods on even-numbered years. In May 2012, the board froze undergraduate tuition for Texas residents for two years, but did not take similar actions for graduate tuition. The board passed a 3.6 percent increase on graduate tuition for the 2012-2013 school year but reached no decision on a similar 3.6 percent increase proposed by the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee for the 2013-2014 school year. 

Mary Knight, associate vice president of the budget office and UT budget director, said it is not typical for the University to be unclear about tuition rates in April. 

“It is an unusual situation,” Knight said. “Normally, we would have a tuition increase decision within a January or February time frame.”

Knight said one reason the committee decided to hold tuition rather than waiting for Regent action was a matter of legality. 

“Graduate students are going to be registering soon, and we wanted students to know what their tuition was going to be in the fall,” Knight said. “There are also legal requirements about notifying students of tuition rate when they register, and not increasing tuition after that period.” 

Registration for continuing students, including graduate students, begins April 15. 

Another budgeting decision for the 2013-2014 school year will be to provide graduate benefits in the form of nontaxable tuition reductions, according to Knight. Previously, benefits were reimbursed through payroll and were subject to tax. 

Michael Redding, outgoing president of the Graduate Student Assembly, said although he was pleased the tuition question has been resolved for the coming semester, he does not feel the solution addresses a larger problem: inaction from the Board of Regents.

“The way I look at it, all the other drama regarding our Regents aside, there are three or four really critical things a regent does,” Redding said. “One of those things is set tuition. They’ve completely dropped the ball on one of their core responsibilities, and that is a huge problem.”

Beyond a question of numbers, Redding said he feels the delayed tuition decision reflects the attitude of the regents toward graduate students.

“There has been a distinct lack of concern from this group of regents for graduate students,” Redding said. “Most graduate students are not Texas residents, and neither are out-of-state students, obviously, so we don’t represent their constituents, if you’re looking at it politically.”

UT President William Powers Jr. and representatives from the UT System did not respond to requests for comment. In an interview last week, System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said she was not sure when the board would discuss tuition rates but believed there had been discussion about putting the issue on the agenda for the May 8 regents meeting.