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College tuition in Texas is poised to climb slightly in 2018

Citing inflation and state funding worries, most public universities in Texas are raising tuition by a few percentage points for 2018.

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College in Texas will become a little more expensive in 2018. 

Following a legislative session in which major funding cuts were considered, five of the state's six big public university systems have signaled an intent to raise undergraduate tuition for the 2018-19 school year — or have already approved increases. The sixth, the Texas Tech University System, hasn't made a decision yet. 

The cost hikes will be modest, with few tuition bills rising more than 4 percent. Currently, the average tuition and fees at a four-year public university in Texas is $7,870 per year, slightly below the national average of $8,543.

School officials have given different reasons for the increases, but many cited long-term declines in per-student state appropriations and inflation. In October, Texas A&M University System regents voted to increase tuition at their 11 universities by 3.7 percent. That amount, they said, matched the rate of inflation in the higher education world as measured by the Commonfund Institute. 

"We remain focused on keeping the costs of attending our universities affordable," Regent Bill Mahomes said when they approved the change. 

The University of Texas System, meanwhile, will set its schools' tuition costs in February. But when regents met this fall to discuss the framework for reaching a decision, they indicated that increases might be coming. Final tuition proposals are due to the universities in early December. Several schools, including UT-Dallas and UT-El Paso, have already signaled plans to propose an increase. The flagship campus, UT-Austin, has told students that it is looking at a 2 percent tuition increase. 

Last week, Texas State University System regents signed off on tuition bumps at their schools of between 1 and 3 percent. And the University of North Texas System board signed off on changes to its tuition policies that will allow its flagship school in Denton to allow for increases for students who study engineering, business and music. 

The University of Houston System, meanwhile, finalized its plans to raise costs at its schools more than a year ago. In 2018, tuition at that system's flagship campus will go up by a little over 2 percent. 

At the A&M System board meeting, Regent Tony Buzbee warned that students will suffer. He has regularly voted against increases while a member of A&M's board. 

"At what point do we stop?" he asked. "At what point is it enough?"

But so far there hasn't been much public outcry from students or lawmakers. This year the Texas Senate approved a two-year undergraduate tuition freeze for public universities in Texas. The bill was one of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's top priorities, but it failed to pass the House. 

During the 2017 legislative session some schools' state appropriations were reduced. And many university leaders have cited uncertainty about the next state budget cycle, given that the Senate has pushed for an overhaul of how universities are funded. 

Still, school leaders have been sensitive about the current political environment. At their meeting this fall, UT System regents expressed a need to meet with their schools' local lawmakers to "explain what is coming."

"I think the rollout is more important than anything," said UT System Regent Kevin Eltife, a former state senator from Tyler. He added that school presidents need to know "that if they are going to recommend a tuition increase, they better have a real need."

Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System, the University of Texas System, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at El Paso, the Texas State University System, the University of North Texas and Tony Buzbee have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Higher education Texas A&M University-College Station