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Powers "Heartened" by Conversation on Tuition Guarantee

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers said he was "heartened" by the statewide discussion on locking in students' tuition rates for four years, and he called on the state to similarly lock in funding for public universities.

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In his State of the University address Wednesday afternoon, University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers said he was "heartened" by statewide discussion of locking in students' tuition rates for four years, which Gov. Rick Perry called for at The Texas Tribune Festival last week.

"We should explore other ways to help families cope with the cost of higher education, even by giving them more predictability so they can plan," he said. "This is the thrust of Gov. Perry's ideas of locking tuition rates on a rolling four-year basis."

Perry has renewed a call to have schools keep students' tuition level for their first four years of college. Some higher education experts have said that the proposal is not necessarily a cost-saver — in fact, the only school that currently uses this model for all of its students is the University of Texas at Dallas, the state's most expensive public university. But it could provide students with predictability in their budgeting and provide an incentive to graduate before the rate increases.

Powers, who has made increasing UT's four-year graduation rates a priority, said that the merits of locking in tuition could also be applied to the state's funding of universities.

"Predictability and planning are also important for our campus," he said, "so the state should also show its commitment by providing predictable revenue streams for the same for years. Predictability aids planning, and planning promotes efficiency."

Much of the rest of Powers' speech focused on his institution's efforts to boost efficiency, including a massive course redesign project that allows students to get more out of and successfully complete large, difficult courses.

He closed by plugging the new medical school that the university hopes to add, which has received a significant push from state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Currently, the state's funding models for public universities are not set up for combined research universities and medical schools, which has caused some concern and was the focus of a recent legislative hearing.

"We have worked on this for more than six years, making sure that the funding model would not diminish our academic programs," Powers said.

Hundreds of miles away, almost simultaneously, University of Texas at El Paso President Diana Natalicio also delivered a major address on the state of her university. She, similarly, touted its efficiency.

Natalicio pointed out that the average net price — what students pay out of pocket after scholarships and grants — to attend UTEP was the lowest in the country among research universities at slightly more than $2,000 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

She also celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act of 1862, which establish land grant universities around the country, and drew a contrast with the state's current approach to funding public higher education.

"Sadly, however, this investment in building the human resource foundation upon which this country's prosperity has solidly rested has begun to erode," Natalicio said, "as public — especially state — support for higher education has declined, and cost burdens have been shifted to students."

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