UT officials weigh in on tuition increases

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The debate over UT tuition continued this morning as UT System Regent Alex Cranberg and Melinda Hill Perrin, former chair of the UT-Austin Development Board, voiced their opinions in Texas Tribune guest columns.

Cranberg called for a halt to tuition increases, while Perrin advocated for a tuition increase and spoke against the May decision by the UT System Board of Regents to freeze undergraduate tuition at UT for the next two years. Widespread debate has surrounded the issue of tuition at UT since its deregulation in 2003.

The board voted last May to freeze tuition for in-state undergraduates while increasing tuition for all other students, a decision that contradicted UT President Bill Powers’ recommendation to raise tuition campuswide. The board voted to increase tuition for every other campus in the system that requested an increase.

Office of the President spokesperson Tara Doolittle said the University administration’s opinion on tuition has not changed since last spring.

Perrin said the percentage of state funding making up UT’s operating budget has declined from 47 to 13 percent since 1985, causing a decrease in stable funding that must be made up, in part, by an increase in tuition.

“In order for our tier-one institution to attract world-class faculty, students and researchers, we must have an appropriate funding mix that includes tuition, philanthropy and state funding so that we can sustain the mission of the University without unnecessarily burdening one group,” she said.

Cranberg said while the percentage of state funding in higher education budgets has decreased, it has, roughly, kept up with inflation during the last 20 years. He said increases in educational costs and research budgets have caused the discrepancy in funding. Tuition at UT has grown more than 80 percent during the last 8 years.

Andrew Clark, international relations and global studies junior and vice president of UT’s Senate of College Councils, said while tuition costs have risen, he believes the resulting rise in the value of a UT degree has been worth the cost.

“UT is growing larger and becoming a more competitive institution,” he said. “It drives up costs, but that in turn raises the value of the degree that a university is able to give.”

Lucian Villasenor is a Mexican-American Studies senior and a member of Occupy UT, an organization that has strongly opposed tuition increases in the past. He said he believes an increase in state funding is the answer to the tuition dilemma, and he advocates for the elimination of tuition costs at the University altogether.

“What we need to do is get the state to actually fund education,” he said.

Villasenor said Occupy UT advocates for tax increases for wealthy Texans and businesses in the state that would ultimately make a UT education free for in-state students without compromising the quality of the University.

Villasenor said Occupy UT will be continuing its efforts in the fall by better educating the UT community on tuition-related issues so that community members can advocate
for themselves.

Texas Exes spokesperson Tim Taliaferro said one thing that surprises him about the debate surrounding tuition at UT is the fact that tuition is on the rise nationwide, and UT is getting much more attention than other universities.

“I don’t think it’s perfectly fair to put all the blame on the rise of costs just at the University of Texas at Austin,” he said.