UT regents mapping strategy for political support on tuition


The regents plan to seek support from elected officials before adopting future tuition increases.

The strategy follows a legislative session in which bill to freeze tuition for two years passed in the Senate.

University of Texas System regents sketched out a strategy Friday to ensure that proposals to raise tuition and fees in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years are warranted and to seek support from local officials, lawmakers and statewide elected leaders before adopting them.

The effort to bolster the tuition-setting process with an eye toward enlisting political support comes after a legislative session that saw the Texas Senate vote 29-2 to freeze academic charges for two years at the state’s public universities and to sharply restrict future increases. But the measure, Senate Bill 19, didn’t emerge from a House committee.

“I think more than ever we need to do everything we can to educate them,” Regent Kevin Eltife, a former Republican state senator from Tyler, said of lawmakers. “They may not like it, but we need to be able to say when we go to session in ’19, ‘Look, we had to do this. Here’s the need, here’s why we did it, and we did our best to visit with all of you.’ And we need to target the reps and senators from the area of the institution and we need to target” the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

Regent Rad Weaver said it will be crucial to find local champions for any tuition increase. “There’ll be one or two within each local delegation, and we need to identify those early on and make sure that they’re informed,” he said.

Regent Janiece Longoria agreed. “They can be very helpful with state leadership in helping frame the message about why it’s so important, assuming that they need a tuition increase and assuming that it’s the right amount,” she said.

Regent Sara Martinez Tucker, who chairs the UT board’s Academic Affairs Committee, said campus leaders would be expected to play a key role in making the case to elected officials for any tuition increase. Her committee signed off on the strategy Friday, and the full Board of Regents is expected to go along with it at a meeting later this month.

The system’s eight academic campuses are expected to submit their tuition plans to the UT System in December. The campuses are supposed to take revenue needs, student debt, affordability and other factors into account. The regents will make the final call in February.

Chancellor Bill McRaven noted that a political calculation is inevitably part of the decision.

“If you look at the facts that will be presented in terms of the needs for the institutions to generate additional revenue, we are clearly going to have to balance that with the political will, and I think we all understand that moving forward,” McRaven said.

The Legislature ceded tuition-setting authority to university governing boards in 2003. As the flagship university in the capital city, UT-Austin has faced more scrutiny than any other school.

After not seeing a tuition increase since 2012, the campus won approval from the regents in February 2016 for a $152 increase in the semester charge for the fall of that year, and another $152 boost will take effect this fall, bringing tuition and fees to $5,207 per semester for undergraduates from Texas.

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