Out-of-state tuition bigger in Texas

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The Tuition Policy Advisory Committee begins its first of many regular meetings today, as it will deliberate from now through November on a tuition rate to recommend to President William Powers Jr. Powers will make his recommendation to the Board of Regents, who will then set the final tuition rate for the next two years.

According to its Oct. 12 forum, TPAC is operating under two cost-conscious directives from the UT System, which include tying any requests for an increase in tuition to four-year graduation rates and capping all tuition increases to the change in the consumer price index.

The CPI is a statistic calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is a relatively basic calculation of changes in the cost of living in an area. It measures the changes in the prices of commonly purchased items and services, including coffee, cereal, gas, toys and haircuts, to determine how much more or less people have to pay to live somewhere.

Based on Texas’ CPI, the UT System determined all tuition increases will be capped at 2.6 percent.

Yet, the CPI for the United States is about 1 percent higher, a fact mentioned only as a side note at TPAC’s forum but one that has much larger consequences for the oft-side-noted one-fifth of our student population: out-of-state and international students.

The average undergraduate tuition cost for Texas residents at UT is $9,416 per year, which is the fifth lowest among the University’s peer institutions. But the average undergraduate tuition cost for non-residents, who, according to the Office of Information and Analysis, make up about 9 percent of the undergraduate population, is $31,266 per year, which is the fourth highest out-of-state rate among the same peer institutions.

Affordability is a crucial part of the UT identity. Yet this supposed identity excludes a subset of the student body. Pushing costs onto non-residents is a long-serving tradition among cash-strapped public universities. Last year, the University of California System’s decision to admit more out-of-state students as a way to offset large state cuts was part of what fueled mass protests at its campuses.

But few schools uphold this tradition as deliberately or as openly as UT does. For example, out-of-state tuition for undergraduates is 3.3 times greater than its in-state tuition, which is the second biggest difference among peer institutions, behind only the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, whose numbers tend to be skewed because of the awe-inspiring amount the state invests per student. Additionally, if the Board of Regents decides to increase all in-state tuition by 2.6 percent and all out-of-state tuition by 3.6 percent, the University would receive an additional $12.4 million per year from its undergraduates — more than 30 percent of which would come off the backs of its 3,400 non-resident students, who would be paying a higher percentage from a larger initial tuition bill.

The most common reason given for higher education’s “outsider tax” is that public universities are financed by the people of the state and therefore should belong to the people of that state. In 2008-09, the Legislature invested $7,353 per full-time undergraduate student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But non-resident students pay significantly more than this amount with their inflated tuition bills, which was about $30,000 in the same year.

As decision-makers begin deliberating on tuition policy recommendations, we ask that they refrain from the traditional temptation to disproportionally charge the minority. The University benefits greatly from a diversity of ideas, and maintaining a fresh mix of international and out-of-state students is a step in the right direction. It’s time to honestly examine if UT is truly the good value it claims to be.

— Shabab Siddiqui for the editorial board.