Divided UT board approves 6.2 percent hike in tuition and fees

5:34 p.m Monday, Feb. 29, 2016 Local

The price tag for tuition and fees at the University of Texas will go up by $152 a semester in the fall and another $152 in the fall of 2017 under a plan approved Monday in a 5-3 vote that revealed sharp differences in philosophy among members of the university’s governing board.

The increases, which had been expected, will bring academic charges for undergraduates from Texas to $5,207 per semester. That works out to an increase of 3.1 percent this fall and 3 percent a year later, for a total increase of 6.2 percent from the current semester charge of $4,903.

The UT System Board of Regents also voted to increase tuition and fees at its seven other academic campuses. Those votes passed by margins of 6-2 or 5-3. In all of the votes, Regents Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall Jr. and Brenda Pejovich were the only dissenters.

The regents voted unanimously to approve increases at five health campuses. A sixth one, the Health Science Center at Tyler, did not seek an increase.

Cranberg, Hall and Pejovich said they believed more could be done to contain costs at the academic campuses, and Hall said he was disappointed in a process that he characterized as beginning with the notion “that raising prices is all we consider.”

“We appear not only insensitive predominantly to the middle class … but I also believe it makes us appear very tone deaf to many in the Legislature,” Hall said, adding that the board’s action invites state lawmakers to reassert control over tuition at public universities.

The Legislature ceded tuition-setting authority to boards of regents in 2003, and since then, some lawmakers have sought time and again without success to scale back the boards’ control. Last year, an unorthodox approach linking tuition increases and graduation rates passed the Senate but did not advance to the House floor by a key deadline.

Regent Steve Hicks said the UT board has been “very conservative” when it comes to raising tuition and fees. UT-Austin has not seen an increase since 2012, although the board has provided the campus with an extra jolt of funding from the higher education endowment it oversees in lieu of considering a tuition increase.

Chancellor Bill McRaven, who pressed for the tuition and fees increases, defended them and seemed to downplay the division on the board. Charges for the academic and health campuses remain “well below the national averages even with these increases in tuition and fees,” he said. “We have worked very hard to ensure that we have the best cost-avoidance structure in place, and we will continue to do that.”

As for the board’s split votes, “I don’t think it’s a fundamental disagreement,” McRaven told reporters after the board meeting. “I think it’s a nuanced disagreement. We had a great deliberative process. These are tough decisions.”

Asked whether he was concerned about the potential for the Legislature to take control over tuition, he said, “The Board of Regents is doing a great job of managing” tuition. “You have to have revenue to provide the kind of quality experience students are expecting these days.” He noted that legislative appropriations make up a decreasing share of university budgets.