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Perry Urges UT Board to Consider Alternatives to Tuition Hikes

UPDATED: In light of Gov. Rick Perry’s word of caution about raising tuition, the University of Texas System Board of Regents on Wednesday only approved tuition increases for out-of-state and health science campus students.

UT System Chancellor Dr. Francisco Cigarroa and Board of Regents Chairman Paul L. Foster as UT Regents study tuition increases on May 14, 2014.

Update, 6:45 p.m.: 

In light of Gov. Rick Perry’s word of caution about raising tuition, the University of Texas System Board of Regents at a meeting on Wednesday only approved proposed tuition increases for out-of-state and health science campus students. The regents tabled a vote on an increase for in-state undergraduate and graduate students.

The board will revisit the question of changing tuition for in-state students at a meeting scheduled for May 20.

UT System Board Chairman Paul Foster said Perry’s letter, which he sent Wednesday morning, had a big influence on the decision to take more time to explore alternatives to raising tuition for some students. “He’s the governor and that’s his role,” Foster said.

Fourteen of the system's universities and health science institutions put forth plans to raise their tuition rates, mostly between 2 and 5 percent. For certain dental and nursing schools, however, the increase will be higher. Students who enroll at the UT Houston and San Antonio dental schools for fall 2015, for example, will pay 19 percent more than 2014 tuition rates. 

Presenting their respective plans, many of the university presidents cited faculty recruitment and retention as the primary reason for increasing tuition. They also noted scholarship programs and academic incentives as potential sources of funding.

“We can’t underestimate the important of the faculty that drives the excellence of these schools,” said William Henrich, the president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he said the dental department lost faculty members because of low compensation.

Echoing the presidents of their respective universities, student government leaders were on hand to voice their support — on behalf of the student bodies — for the proposed increases. 

“There was understanding, pretty unanimously, that there is a need for recurring revenue,” Andrew Clark, the student body president of UT-Austin, said of the consensus for a tuition hike among UT students.

But not every student agreed. Mukund Rathi, a junior at UT-Austin, spoke against the tuition hike. The student body was only invited to discuss the plan for two weeks after spring break, he said, adding that the system's endowment, which is known as the Permanent University Fund, is big enough to account for the universities’ needs.

“The money [should] not go to investments into private corporations and held in a fund indefinitely, like a bank would do,” Rathi said. “The money is supposed to be put back into the system in order to increase the value of our education.” 

Original story, 9:45 a.m.: 

As the University of Texas System Board of Regents prepares to consider tuition increases at its institutions today, Gov. Rick Perry sent the board's chairman, Paul Foster, a letter this morning urging them to proceed cautiously.

"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," he wrote. "Forcing students to bear the brunt of additional costs is not the solution."

In his letter, the governor made no mention of the conflict surrounding his appointee on the UT System board, Regent Wallace Hall. Earlier this week, a legislative committee determined that grounds exist to impeach Hall. The committee plans to meet next week to discuss specific articles of impeachment.

The UT System board is scheduled to meet today and tomorrow. In addition to considering tuition increases, the board plans to discuss its current governance structures, among other issues.

"As you consider tuition increases for UT System institutions today, I trust the board will consider all opportunities for system-wide cost efficiencies as well as revenue streams — such as the exponential growth in the value in the Permanent University Fund — that will allow you to meet institutional needs without placing additional financial burdens on students and parents," Perry wrote.

The Permanent University Fund is a constitutionally created endowment that has benefitted significantly from oil and gas earnings.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Paul Foster is a major donor to the Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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