Champagne on a beer budget

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After receiving several extremely defensive emails from UT President William Powers Jr., I wanted to learn more about the higher education debate that has obviously struck a nerve and was seemingly being hurriedly swept under the rug.  

What I learned was pretty depressing. College tuition has been skyrocketing over the past decade, but Powers was not addressing this huge problem that college-bound Americans will face. Instead, he was attacking a proposed solution that dealt with improving productivity at public universities.

Just between 2005 and 2010, there has been nearly a 36-percent increase in the average cost of tuition at UT. At this rate, tuition at UT will be anything but sustainable. In the fall semester of 2005, the average cost of tuition at UT was $3,643. Fast forward five years and that number jumps to $4,969. Think of it this way: At this rate, if I were to have a child in three years — add 18 years for him or her to grow to college age — my child would be paying more than $17,000 per semester to attend this same public university in Texas.

But why is this increase happening? Where is all this money going? As a current fourth-year UT student, I feel as though I should know the answer, but I don’t. In fact, I couldn’t tell you where or how my tuition or my parents’ tax dollars are being spent. There is no breakdown of tuition and fees when I pay tuition each semester. I have no way of finding out how much my tuition is going toward the ever-empty and ever-looping UT Lake Austin shuttle bus, the air conditioning and lighting for hundreds of classrooms that sit unused other than a few hours per day or the new liberal arts building that is needlessly being built. How much is this costing me? How much is this costing you? Are these frivolous expenditures really adding to the quality of higher education?

Sounds to me like UT is buying champagne on a beer budget and the students and taxpayers of Texas are the ones having to make up the difference. There are obviously ways to cut costs: Increase productivity of lecturers, keep only self-sufficient research and make use of current University facilities by offering night classes. You can still love UT while challenging it to be better.

In a past Austin American-Statesman article, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, said she “expects the issue [of examining university budgets] to remain a live one for up to six years.” But there is no time to wait. The house is on fire. Let’s put it out now before it becomes an inferno.

— Lauren Pierce
Government senior