Despite shrinking state support, University of Texas at Arlington President Jim Spaniolo signaled today that his school would not raise tuition in the upcoming 2012-13 academic year.
Since tuition deregulation in 2003, UT-Arlington has increased its price tag every year. The average annual tuition rate has risen from $4,123 in the 2001-02 academic year to $9,292 this year. And that's where it will remain next year. Additionally, the annual rate for room and board at the school will stay steady at $7,554.
"Because we’re concerned about affordability, about the uncertain economy, about shrinking financial aid at the federal and state level, we wanted to make a statement to our students," Spaniolo told the Tribune.
Spaniolo made his recommendation Tuesday evening to UT-Arlington's tuition review committee, a group made up primarily of students. The institution's official request to the University of Texas System regents is not due until December, but Spaniolo anticipates that the usual consultation process that goes into it will be smoother than normal given this opening bid. The UT System regents had told institutions that they could request tuition increases of up to 2.6 percent for undergraduates and 3.6 percent for graduate students.
This is not necessarily meant to be a model for other institutions to follow, Spaniolo said. "We think that our circumstances are such that we can afford to do this, not that we have extra money," he said. For example, UT-Arlington has experienced significant growth — thanks, in part, to the bolstering of its online offerings. This fall, enrollment reached an all-time high of 33,439 students, a 34 percent increase from five years ago. Under the current funding system, more students draw more state dollars.
The university generated savings this year through a staff hiring freeze and the voluntary departure of some faculty and staff. Also, officials anticipate significant revenues from a large real estate development project next to campus that will bring in shops, student housing and a special-events arena.
Still, UT-Arlington is one of the institutions vying to be the state's next public top-tier university. That takes money, and money is tight. In 2001-02, state support made up 45 percent of the school's revenue. This year, it only makes up 21 percent.
"We feel at the end of the day we’ll be ahead of the game taking this approach as opposed increasing tuition even by a modest amount in the next year or so," Spaniolo said. "We feel confident this will not slow us down."
With student debt becoming a growing concern, he said, "we want to make sure our students who are enrolled will stay enrolled, and those who might enroll will do so and continue on."
This could turn out to be just a temporary respite for students. Usually, the UT System sets tuition rates every other year, as it will do in early 2012. Along with its request to keep tuition steady next year, UT-Arlington will request the option to increase tuition up to the maximum allowed amount for 2013-14 if that is deemed necessary.