May 20, 2014

Texas regents decline to raise in-state tuition

Gov. Rick Perry wrote a letter urging the regents to consider alternatives to tuition hikes.

The University of Texas System board of regents voted Tuesday to keep tuition stable for in-state students at all of the system’s academic institutions.

Over the summer, the chancellor and vice chancellors will work to identify other revenue sources to make up for the lack of additional tuition at the campuses. Those plans are expected to be presented at the board meeting in August.

“We’re looking forward to working with the chancellor and chairman to identify those recurring funds that are needed to maintain excellence at UT,” Gary Susswein, a University of Texas at Austin spokesman, said Tuesday.

UT Arlington President Vistasp Karbhari previously told the Star-Telegram that the university was looking for approval for a 3 percent tuition increase. The university has held tuition constant since fall 2011 at $4,646 a semester for in-state students seeking bachelor’s degrees.

Also Tuesday, the board approved optional four-year fixed-tuition plans for six of the system’s campuses. Those plans start with a higher rate in a student’s first year to account for expected tuition increases.

Full-time undergraduate students at UT Arlington would pay $5,018 a semester through the fixed-rate plan. UTA officials declined to comment on the regents’ actions.

Paul Foster, the board’s chairman, said that while he would like to say tuition will never go up again, the board cannot tie the hands of a future board. Regarding the benefits of the fixed-tuition plan, he said, “So, if you’re an incoming freshman and you want to know what it’s going to cost you for four years, you have an alternative.”

At a meeting last week, the board had approved proposed tuition increases for out-of-state and health science campus students. However, a vote on tuition rates for in-state students was postponed until Tuesday in the hope that strategies could be devised to make those increases unnecessary.

Foster said the decision was at least partly a response to a request from Gov. Rick Perry, who wrote him a letter Thursday morning urging the board to consider alternatives to tuition hikes.

“To put a college degree within reach for more students and combat the epidemic of student indebtedness, we should place a far greater emphasis on controlling the spiraling costs of a college education,” the governor wrote. Perry has also been a vocal advocate of four-year fixed-tuition options.

Last week’s meeting also featured calls from Foster and other regents for Wallace Hall, their fellow board member, to resign. Hall has been the focus of controversy and a legislative investigation — a committee has said grounds for impeachment exist — for his aggressive approach to serving as a regent. Hall has denied wrongdoing.

In a letter to Foster on Monday, Hall said he will not resign.

Foster said he is prepared to move on. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s history,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Much of the tension surrounding Hall has been his repeated demands for information from the UT Austin administration. Tuesday’s meeting included a long discussion surrounding proposed changes to the board’s rules relating to regents’ information requests.

The proposal calls for a regent whose request is objected to by a chancellor or chairman to get other regents to support it before it can move forward.

Hall called the plan “a real imposition” for those who desire to ask campuses for data. Foster said that was “clearly not the intent.”

“If a chairman were to use this rule to deliberately delay, then shame on that chairman,” Foster said.

Regent Alex Cranberg, who has also made data requests of universities, said he is sympathetic to points made by those who support the changes. “It’s helpful for the entire board to hear about an issue about which there is a difference of opinion,” he said.

After the discussion, a tweaked version of the proposed rule changes passed unanimously. It says that, in the event of a disputed request, the matter will be presented to the board within 21 days. If two or more regents support the request, it will be fulfilled.

The rule changes also explicitly say that individual regents are not authorized to record the board’s executive sessions, as one of them was recently revealed to have done.

Also Tuesday, the board voted to officially name former Texas Tech University President Guy Bailey the inaugural president of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, which is expected to open in 2015. Though the institution will not open its doors until next year, Bailey, who had previously been named the sole finalist, will start in his position June 15.

Staff writer Monica S. Nagy contributed to this report.

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