Responding to Gov. Rick Perry’s call to hold the line on tuition, University of Texas System regents moved Wednesday to figure out a way to avoid raising charges for in-state students at UT Austin and eight other academic campuses.
The regents approved tuition increases for out-of-state students at the nine academic campuses, as well as for students at five health campuses. The University of Texas at Arlington is among the campuses involved.
“He did influence the process,” regents Chairman Paul Foster said of Perry, whose request came in a letter just hours before the board’s vote. “Absolutely. He’s the governor of this state, and I believe that’s his role.”
In his letter, Perry urged the board to trim costs and perhaps tap the Permanent University Fund, a multibillion-dollar endowment.
Foster said officials will look into tapping the endowment and come up with a plan by Tuesday, when the board is scheduled to meet by phone.
Two years ago, the regents rejected a tuition increase sought by UT Austin after Perry urged them to hold the line.
The tuition proposal up for debate Wednesday could have bumped the average semester cost at the flagship campus past $5,000.
“To put a college degree within reach for more students and to combat the epidemic of student indebtedness, we should put a far greater emphasis on controlling the spiraling cost of a college education,” Perry wrote. “Forcing students to bear the brunt of additional costs is not the solution.”
Foster said regents need to discuss how to increase revenue “without putting it on the backs of students.” School presidents have warned that without more money, they risk losing top faculty members to competitors.
It’s the second time in two years that Perry has balked at raising rates — another sign of friction with UT in a long-running battle over affordability and accountability in higher education.
Perry’s letter came just two days after a bipartisan Texas House panel found grounds for impeachment against Regent Wallace Hall over efforts to fire UT Austin President Bill Powers. Hall is accused of improperly launching a one-man investigation against Powers and inundating the UT System in open-records requests.
If impeached, Hall — appointed by Perry in 2011 — would be the first governor-appointed official removed from office.
Hall has denied breaking any laws and was back at work Wednesday at the regents meeting.
Regents haven’t raised tuition at UT Austin since 2011. Powers sought another increase in 2012, but that proposal was rejected. At the time, Perry called it a “good message” that the state will not ignore economic realities facing families.
UT Austin argues that its costs remain among the lowest compared with similar major public universities. Last fall, the average undergraduate cost per semester for a Texas resident was $4,889.