In an effort to reduce the cost of college degrees in Texas, four-year fixed tuition rates could become a reality at public Texas universities after the upcoming legislative session.
A bill filed by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, will require institutions to offer undergraduate students a fixed tuition plan for four years. If students do not graduate in four years, institutions would charge tuition at the rate it was charged a year after the student initially enrolled at the institution.
UT-Dallas and UT-El Paso, which both charge tuition per credit hour, currently offer guaranteed tuition plans with fixed four-year tuition rates.
UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa recently told The Daily Texan tuition options would work better for the System than imposing uniform requirements that would not fit at all institutions.
“Many students [at UT-El Paso] are taking on one or two jobs, and many students are concerned that because of their unique circumstances as a student that they may not be able to graduate in four years,” Cigarroa said. “The student demographic is different.”
Since the 2007 fall semester, UT-Dallas has enrolled all new students in its guaranteed tuition plan. In 2007, the first year the school used its guaranteed tuition plan, average in-state tuition increased by almost $1,000.
At UT-El Paso, students are given the option to choose between a traditional tuition plan and a fixed tuition plan if they enroll in a minimum of 15 semester credit hours.
Figures show a majority of students opt to participate in the traditional tuition plan, and only 4 percent of new students enrolled in the guaranteed tuition plan last year.
In 2007, the year after the guaranteed plan was approved, tuition rates at UT-El Paso increased by more than $1,300.
Tuition rates at both institutions have steadily increased since then.
The bill would not require institutions to offer alternative tuition plans to undergraduate students as UT-El Paso has since 2006.
Efforts via phone and email to reach Branch to discuss the bill were unsuccessful. Branch is the chair of the House Higher Education Committee.
Last year UT President William Powers Jr. recommended a 2.6 percent in-state tuition hike for the University, which was denied by the UT System Board of Regents. During his 2012 State of the University address, Powers said stable revenue streams from the state for four years are crucial if the state wants to set fixed tuition rates.
Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president, serves on the University’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee and said it is important to determine what the bill could mean for other resources UT-Austin provides for students through tuition.
“For students, it would look promising in terms of the affordability aspect because history shows tuition would increase rather than decrease during those four years,”
Morton said. “During those four years, the University would need more [state] appropriations because if revenue decreases the University isn’t able to adjust and make up for the loss, leading to possible cuts to programs at the educational level.”
Four-year tuition rates fall in line with Gov. Rick Perry’s initiatives for
“We want to give them the stability, the predictability of ‘Here’s what it’s going to cost you for four years,’” Perry said during a press conference last year.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which administers various state higher education programs and makes recommendations to the Legislature, would have the ability to adopt any rules appropriate to administering fixed tuition rates.
Board spokesperson Dominic Chavez said the board is concerned about the rising cost of higher education and has focused on identifying initiatives and proposals to improve cost efficiency and productivity in higher education.
While recommendations from the board usually line up with Perry’s initiatives, the board has not endorsed four-year tuition rates.
If passed, four-year tuition rates will be implemented during the 2013 fall semester.
Printed on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 as: Bill focuses on four-year guaranteed tuition rates