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Perry Calls for Upfront Price Tags at Universities

UPDATED: Gov. Rick Perry on Monday proposed requiring public universities to inform incoming students upfront about how much their degrees will cost relative to how long it takes them to graduate.

Gov. Rick Perry at the 2012 Texas Tribune Festival in on Sept. 21, 2012.

Updated, 3:20 pm.: Gov. Rick Perry laid out his higher education initiatives at a press conference in Dallas today. As expected, he emphasized his desire to see universities keep tuition at a set price for a student's first four years of college, as well as calling for institutions to tell students how much their degrees will cost if they graduate in four, five or six years.

"Implementing these measures will meet the growing demand for higher education in a way that provides encouragement for students to complete their degree in a timely fashion and with financial certainty," Perry said.

The governor renewed a challenge he issued in his 2011 State of the State address for universities to design bachelor's degrees that only cost $10,000. Since his initial proposal, nine schools have implemented or announced various approaches to the $10,000 degree.

Perry also called on the legislature to tie 10 percent of state funding for universities to outcomes such as graduation totals in an effort to incentivize them to bring those numbers up.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, joined Perry at the press conference. In a conversation with The Texas Tribune, he said that it was important for policymakers not to forget about quality as they tackled the issue of affordability. "It's a really expensive education if you pay money and don’t get educated," he said.

Original story: Sources close to Gov. Rick Perry's office say that he will propose requiring the state's public universities to inform incoming students upfront about how much their degree will cost them if it takes them four years to graduate — and how much more they will spend if it takes five or six years to graduate.

The plan is part of Perry's recent push to make college tuition more predictable for students and to encourage them to graduate on time. In late September, at The Texas Tribune Festival, he called for institutions to lock in students' tuition at a fixed price for the first four years of their higher education.

He is expected to discuss both proposals Monday at a press conference in the library of Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. He will also encourage the Legislature to tie some state funding for universities, which is currently based on enrollment, to outputs such as graduation numbers in order to help incentivize institutional productivity, sources familiar with the plans for the event told the Tribune.

These are not necessarily new ideas. Outcomes-based funding has been pushed in previous legislative sessions with limited success, though it is widely believed to have momentum heading into the 2013 session. The University of Texas at Dallas has had locked-in tuition rates for its students for the last five years.

UT-Dallas President David Daniel recently told the Tribune that while locking in tuition helps students plan, it is not necessarily a cost-saver. To account for future inflation, schools that institute such a scheme generally have slightly higher prices for freshmen relative to other schools. UT-Dallas has the highest tuition of any public university in the state, though Daniel said that is mostly because of its heavy focus on science and engineering programs, which tend to be more expensive.

The University of Texas at El Paso offers an optional tuition plan that guarantees one price for four years, but according to UTEP President Diana Natalicio, it has not been popular among the students there. She noted that the institution has a higher population of low-income students who work their way through school, often taking more than four years to graduate, and prefer to pay as they go.

If Perry's financial disclosure proposal sounds familiar, it may be because there is a similar plank in University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa's framework for advancing excellence at UT institutions. All universities within the UT System are scheduled to begin distributing "shopping sheets" to students and their families with information on college costs and financial aid options in fall 2013.

If Perry gets his way, other institutions will likely follow suit.

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