The University of Texas at Austin was not my first choice for college. It was, however, the cheapest option out of the college offers I received. As a Texas resident, I am eligible for in-state tuition — a privilege that I sometimes cannot believe is a reality considering the caliber of teaching and academics at this University.
There has been no shortage of news about tuition recently. First, as the Texan reported in late March, a committee of student leaders had submitted a recommendation to increase tuition for both in-state and out-of-state undergraduates by 2.6 percent. Then, in late April, another Texan article reminded me how lucky I am to be a Texas resident when it pointed out that out-of-state students, according to psychology professor Christopher Beevers, “are more likely to come from affluent families who can afford the higher tuition rate.” With yearly out-of-state tuition for the 2013-2014 school year averaging out to $33,842 compared to $9,798 for in-state students, the benefits of UT’s affordability are lost entirely on non-Texas residents. This leads many to wonder why, year after year, out-of-state students continue to come to UT, despite not being eligible for in-state tuition. The perception that out-of-students are inherently more wealthy than in-staters might not be without basis. However, we all ended up at UT, so why should it matter how much we are paying to stay?
In truth, it shouldn’t.
For out-of-state students, the decision to come to UT may be different from in-state students, but that doesn’t make it any less admirable. I chose UT because, much to the delight of my parents’ checkbook, it was inexpensive. I quickly came to realize that the benefits of an education at UT are not strictly based on its price tag — for both in-state and out-of-state students, UT’s accolades and world-class programs trumped any financial benefits (or lack thereof).
Meg Phippin, an undeclared freshman from Maryland, said, “I was lucky enough to have my choice of any school regardless of the cost.”
Jennifer Quillin, a business freshman from California, was also thankful for her opportunity to come to UT, saying, “I've been extremely blessed by wonderful parents and am really grateful that I had the opportunity to come here from out of state.”
Andrew Haruki Hill, an economics and physics freshman from New York, said, “Luckily, I come from a well off family and my parents allowed me to apply to any college and would pay for my tuition. So my decision to go anywhere would purely be based on how much I liked it and how much I thought I would succeed there.”
All three of these students share the same humility and appreciation that their economic backgrounds awarded them. According to a Texas Observer article, almost half of UT students attend the University without financial aid, regardless of their residency. There are signs of privilege are all around UT; out-of-staters are by no means the only example of affluence on the 40 Acres. From our beautiful football stadium to the brand-new Communication and Liberal Arts buildings, UT isn’t too shabby.
Amid this affluence there are students who have to work full-time to pay for college, take out student loans, and accept scholarships in order to attend UT. Although “it’s seldom discussed, the number of poor and lower-middle-class students attending public four-year colleges in Texas is startlingly low,” according to the same Texas Observer article. Sixty percent of enrolled students have family incomes of $75,000 or higher, also according to the article. While this is an issue in and of it itself, to define out-of-state students as wealthier than in-state ones is ignoring the facts: We go to a school full of affluent students — hometowns are not necessarily an indication of wealth. Instead of categorizing out-of-state students as particularly affluent, we should be focusing on the value of the education we are receiving. The educational benefits of this University should unify us as one.
Berkeley is a Plan II and advertising freshman from Austin. Follow Berkeley on Twitter @oliviaberkeley.