Wanda Mercer

Last week, a UT System executive vice chancellor announced he will step down from his position.

Pedro Reyes, UT System executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, will step down once a replacement is found, according to a statement released Thursday.

Reyes joined the UT System in 2003 after being a faculty member at UT-Austin since 1991. Aside from some special projects with the UT System, Reyes will return to the UT College of Education to teach full-time, according to the statement.

UT President William Powers Jr. said Reyes’ move is not surprising, considering he, himself, is planning to teach after he steps down from his position as president in June.

“I think it’s quite typical of administrators to come back to teaching — that’s what I’m going to do,” Powers said.

Wanda Mercer, associate vice chancellor of student affairs, said she knows Reyes well after working with him for the past five years.

“What I really appreciate is his dedication to students, his commitment to UT and his work ethic,” Mercer said. “There is no one that works harder than Pedro Reyes. I come in every day early to do morning workout, and he’s there by seven in the morning and seldom leaves
before six.”

Mercer said in his time at the UT System, Reyes has established a policy of helping the System universities without necessarily exerting complete control. She said this approach is unique to the UT System.

“He is just trying to provide support to the campuses without directing what they do,” Mercer said. “He is trying to help them achieve their goals.”

At a conference in March, UT System Chancellor William McRaven said, like Reyes, he supports the System universities in their own aspirations.

“I’m going to support the [University] presidents,” McRaven said. “What I learned over my years in the military is it’s not about the higher headquarters, it’s about how the higher headquarters support the individual institutions.”

Mercer said students remained Reyes’ primary focus throughout his career.

“What I think is most important is the commitment to students, trying to do what’s right for students, even at the System level,” Mercer said. “Whether he’s setting up [UT Rio Grande Valley] or leading us to establish student success efforts, at every endeavor, students are at the heart of his commitment.”

Mercer said she understands why Reyes would want to step down to return to teaching.

“The job as executive vice chancellor is very demanding, almost all-consuming, so I was quite understanding of the intention of going back to something he still loves to do that might help him achieve a little more balance in his life,” Mercer said.

In his time at the UT System, Reyes has continued to teach part-time in the College of Education. Mercer said Reyes has always been passionate about teaching.

“He’s always been teaching — he’s hardly given that up,” Mercer said. “I think he’s enjoyed his job at the System, but he truly loves teaching and research.”

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

Tuition and fees at UT have nearly doubled in the last decade while the need for higher education is beginning to lose support among Texas voters.

According to the Office of Student Financial Services, the total cost of attending the University increased by $4,242 from 2008 to 2014. The total cost includes annual tuition and cost of living. As the cost of attendance has increased, so has the national student loan debt, which the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau reports is over $1 trillion.

Meanwhile, a recent UT/Texas Tribune poll showed 28 percent of Texas voters think a college education is necessary. This is down from 42 percent in 2010, according to the Tribune.

Wanda Mercer, UT System associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said tuition increases at most System institutions go toward hiring more faculty members and funding student support programs. Mercer said increases also allow for salary increases and accommodate for inflation.

At the University, tuition payments also include mandatory fees, which pay for services available to all students. Despite the lack of tuition revenue bonds — which are used to fund construction projects — in recent legislative sessions, Mercer said tuition increases do not usually go toward building costs.

Citing recent board decisions, Mercer said the regents have been resistant toward tuition increases.

“Our regents have been very, very careful about even allowing increases to be requested, and they’ve been even more careful in approving them,” Mercer said.

 

In 2012 and 2014, the Board of Regents decided not to increase undergraduate in-state tuition at the University. Both times, the regents did increase out-of-state undergraduate tuition by 2.1 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.

Up until those recent decisions, the regents had approved significantly higher increases over the past ten years. Supported by then-Chancellor Mark Yudof, the Texas Legislature passed a bill deregulating tuition in 2003. The bill effectively moved tuition decisions for the University from the legislature to the regents. Since deregulation, in-state tuition and fees have increased 80 percent at the University from $2,721 to $4,895, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Mercer said the increases were primarily to accommodate for reduced state funding.

“The legislature pulled back on its appropriations and said to the institutions, ‘it will be market-driven,’” Mercer said. “I don’t think they had any notion that campuses would then say ‘well, if you’re not going to provide the appropriated money, we will go to the students.’”

According to Mercer, System institutions would not operate as effectively as they do now if tuition was lowered to pre-deregulation levels.

“We would not be able to offer the classes in a timely manner that you need for graduation,” Mercer said. “They would have to cut the offerings by a significant amount. They would have to cut services. I’m just not sure it would move students toward graduation in most circumstances.”

Mercer said a System task force formed to find ways of reducing debt recommended incentivizing students to graduate on time in 2012. Jamie Brown, Office of Student Financial Services spokeswoman, said her office encourages graduating in four years to reduce the amount students borrow.

“One of the factors we’re pushing is that students need to graduate in four years,” Brown said. “For the Office of Student Financial Services in particular, it’s so that they don’t have to borrow as much.”

With UT below the national average in terms of students who graduate with debt and the average amount of loan debt in 2012, Brown said she thinks the University’s overall push to increase four-year graduation rates to 70 percent by 2016 is benefitting students financially.

Student Government president Kori Rady was one of seven student leaders on a committee developing the University’s tuition increase proposal to the regents over the past school year. The final proposal, approved by President William Powers, Jr., called for a 2.13 percent increase for in-state tuition and a 2.6 percent for out-of-state.

Rady said even if all proposed increases had been approved by the regents, the University would have still had a competitive tuition compared to peer institutions.

“I really do believe UT is one of the highest-valued colleges in the nation,” Rady said. “We’re definitely very competitive in terms of affordable colleges.”

Mukund Rathi, a computer science junior who has been vocal against tuition increases, said comparing the University’s tuition rates to peer institutions’ should not factor into increase proposals. 

“It’s pretty much irrelevant where other universities are right now,” Rathi said. “We should be doing what makes sense, regardless of how bad other universities are doing.”

 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

At the request of the UT System Board of Regents, a working group of student leaders will now consider up to a 2.6 percent increase for in-state undergraduate tuition in addition to the 3.6 percent out-of-state increase proposed in December.

In 2012, the UT System did not approve any tuition increases at the University and allocated $13.2 million from the Available University Fund to offset tuition and fee increases for 2013 and 2014.

In December, the ad hoc committee of three student leaders, which replaced UT’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee because of time constraints, created a proposal that requested the hike in out-of-state undergraduate tuition. No changes to in-state undergraduate or graduate-student tuition were initially proposed.

The new working group now has seven student leaders, including graduate students, who were not involved in December’s proposal. The group will have one month to create a new proposal for a one-year cycle. In previous years, tuition has been set for a two-year cycle.

Andrew Clark, Senate of College Councils president, said the working group has met once and will allow students to give their input at the Student Government, Graduate Student Assembly and Senate meetings this week.

“I’m personally very frustrated by the lack of time,” Clark said. “We certainly would have much preferred to do the regular [TPAC] process where we have a couple months to really make this a data-driven experience and use more opportunities for student engagement.”

Clark said the working group has decided graduate student tuition will not increase, and no further decisions will be reached until forums are held with students.

“We will use these meetings as an opportunity to host a forum, do a presentation to explain where we are and some possibilities that may be considered and open it up for questions and comments,” Clark said.

GSA President Columbia Mishra said GSA requested through legislation in February to be involved in any tuition discussions — whether graduate tuition is discussed or not. Graduate students were not involved in December’s proposal.

“Everyone should come and take part, as it is indeed an important issue,” Mishra said. “Getting the word out to the students now is critical.”

Wanda Mercer, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said, although there are time constraints, the decision must be made before the semester ends.

“You can’t have quite as widespread of a discussion in six weeks’ time as you can in three months’ time, but, on the other hand, we must get these decisions made by early summer, so students can understand what their tuition and fees are going to be,” Mercer said.

Mercer believes that the instructions for the new proposal were sent out because other universities, such as Texas A&M, created a guaranteed plan that would have significant increases in funding.

“The bottom line is the board members agreed to hear what the presidents [of all UT System universities] would like to do for at least one year,” Mercer said. “They have an opportunity not only to submit that but talk to members of the board.” 

Mercer said the debate around the tuition proposal is important to the University.

“I’m glad students are interested, and I find it reassuring that there’s a healthy debate about it,” Mercer said. “It’s an investment they are making in their future.”

Correction: This article has been updated since its original posting. Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the proposed percent increase for in-state undergraduate tuition. The committee's proposal is recommending a 2.6 percent increase.