University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven said Wednesday that most of the eight universities under his authority collect less tuition than their peers and need to raise rates to remain competitive.
State appropriations for the schools have shrunk this century, McRaven told the UT System Board of Regents at its regular meeting in Galveston, causing low faculty salaries and preventing the universities from moving up in the rankings, he said.
"The bottom line for me is the presidents believe that this revenue is needed to support their universities," McRaven said.
It will be up to the regents to approve the tuition hikes, though the board already gave a preliminary go-ahead to consider increases late last year. Final approval will be up for a vote later this spring.
The increases would range from $74 per semester at UT-Rio Grande Valley to $393 per semester at UT-Dallas. UT-Austin, the flagship, would have a $152 per semester bump. That would generate $31.4 million in new revenue for UT-Austin in the next two academic years. The new money would go toward increasing faculty salaries and programs designed to increase UT-Austin's four-year graduation rate.
The proposals were met with mixed reaction from the regents. Some asked whether UT System schools are being pushed hard enough to cut costs before they are allowed to raise prices for their students. Others asked whether administrative costs for the universities are too high. And concerns were raised that the increases may be difficult for students to stomach as low oil prices threaten to slow down the Texas economy.
Regent Alex Cranberg hinted that he thought the issue needed to be studied further.
"It feels like we are getting sold on a proposal instead of getting the pros and cons of an [increase]," Cranberg said.
But Vice Chairman Steve Hicks defended the idea, saying he hadn't heard any student outcry on the subject. Hicks said he had met with student leaders in recent weeks and none of the students even brought up tuition.
"They as a group are very supportive of the idea and felt like they were very engaged and involved," Hicks said.
If the UT System hikes costs, it won't be alone. Regents approved a 2.2 percent bump at Texas A&M University last year, and other schools have followed suit. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been critical of the cost hikes, noting that state appropriations for higher education increased last year. Patrick included tuition costs in the list of issues he wants the Texas Senate to study before the 2017 session.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas-Dallas are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.