The University of Texas at Austin and all seven other schools in the University of Texas System won approval to increase tuition Monday, a move that will tack on between $148 and $361 to the cost of students' schooling each semester.
The price hikes were approved by the UT System Board of Regents in a series of votes during a telephone meeting. Officials said the universities need the money to keep up with inflation and to improve their national rankings. But opponents said the hikes would hurt students and perhaps create an unwanted response from the Texas Legislature.
"While that may not seem very much, if it compounds over the years it starts to become very significant, resulting in levels of debt for students that you hear complaints about every day," said Regent Alex Cranberg, who voted against the increases.
At UT-Austin, students will pay an additional $304 per semester by fall 2017. The increase, about a 6 percent bump, will be phased in over two years. Total fall 2017 tuition will now be $5,207. The fall 2016 amount will be $5,055.
The other universities seeing tuition hikes will be UT-Arlington, UT-Dallas, the University of Texas at El Paso, UT-San Antonio, UT-Permian Basin, UT-Rio Grande Valley and UT-Tyler. The biggest increase is at UT-Dallas, which will see $361 hike. The smallest will be at UT-RGV, which will increase tuition by $148 over the next two years.
Those increases have been in the works for months after UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven first broached the idea with regents in the fall. Universities held on-campus meetings with students, and regents were briefed on the idea at their most recent regular meeting.
"We just need additional revenue to improve the quality across our institutions," McRaven said.
Outcry on campus has been limited, but some lawmakers have expressed frustration. Last year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned the system not to increase tuition, and he has instructed the Legislature to study tuition regulation in 2017. It's unclear whether such an idea will gain traction.
Regent Wallace Hall, who voted against the hikes, said he was worried that the two years' worth of increases approved Monday would invite lawmakers to retake control of universities' tuition costs. And he said it is troubling that costs are rising while the drop in the cost of oil threatens the Texas economy.
"We appear not only insensitive predominantly to the middle class, which will not be able to afford or benefit from any grant money, but it also makes us appear very tone deaf to many in the Legislature who I believe have sent a message to us and we have ignored it," Hall said.
But McRaven reiterated what he has said during the monthslong tuition debate: UT-Austin and the other universities cost less than the national average. The universities are striving to keep costs down, he said, but also need money to achieve their goals.
"You have to have revenue in order to provide the quality experience students expect nationwide," McRaven said.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of Texas at San Antonio, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin and The University of Texas at Austin are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. The University of Texas at El Paso was a corporate sponsor of the Tribune in 2012.A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.