Making Cents of Tuition Plan

Few students, but strong opinions about UT's rising prices

University of Texas students displayed their typical level of civic engagement at a second forum on a proposed flat-rate tuition plan last week. Only about 50 students filtered into Hogg Auditorium to question the Tuition Policy Advisory Council about the plan to raise UT tuition 4.75% and to charge all undergrads a rate equivalent to 15 hours, no matter how many courses they actually take. (Many full-time students currently take the 12-hour minimum.) However, those students who did show up did the Forty Acres proud as they argued against the plan and begged UT to protect grant money for low-income students.

Sleeves rolled up, gesturing authoritatively with a yellow notepad, business school sophomore Grant Stanis demonstrated his mastery of Accounting 312 with a barrage of facts, figures, data, and rhetoric against flat-rate tuition. Business students, he argued, already have an overflowing plate of internships, group projects, and résumé-boosting extracurricular activities; they need to decide for themselves how many courses they can handle. Plus, he wanted to know what the university was doing with his money, as he already wasn't seeing any benefit from last year's tuition increase. "I still have the same TAs who don't hold office hours, who have language and communication problems, and computer labs where I have to pay for printing," he said. "I don't mind paying more, but I want to see where my money is going."

Stanis carried on for a full 10 minutes, during which time most TPAC members appeared increasingly baffled, beleaguered, or just plain bored. However, UT Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty respectfully explained that tuition increases were necessary to keep salaries competitive within "the industry," and offered to sit down with Stanis to explain the ins and outs of providing good "degree value" at "a reasonable price point."

In addition, College of Natural Sciences Dean Mary Ann Rankin argued that her college had studied the impact of heavier class loads, and found they made good academic sense. "We found that the most successful students were the ones taking 15 or 16 hours," she said.

Other students used the forum not to discuss the tuition increase per se, but to raise the issue of declining state and federal grant money for low-income students. Recently, the federal government changed the formula by which low-income families become eligible for Pell Grants, making it harder for many families to qualify. At the same time, the state TEXAS Grant program for low-income students just ran out of money, largely because cuts in higher-education appropriations led to statewide tuition hikes. While UT has said students who currently get TEXAS grants will continue to receive them (and UT will also waive the tuition increase for low-income students), new low-income freshmen will still have a harder time paying for school.

Mario Sanchez, a mechanical engineering/ economics double major from Del Rio, asked the committee to factor declining grant money into tuition decisions. Sanchez, whose parents were only educated to sixth grade, receives both Pell and TEXAS grants. He fears he will lose grant money when he hits his fifth year of school – a natural outcome of a double major – and worries that declining funds will hurt his younger sisters' college prospects. However, he reserved some of his concern for the apathy of his fellow students. "I was disappointed by the student body," he said. "The university is being open and responsive by holding these forums, so students should take the opportunity to express their opinions."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

University of Texas, UT, tuition increase, flat-rate tuition, Kevin Hegarty, Mary Ann Rankin, Grant Stanis, Mario Sanchez, Pell Grant, TEXAS Grant

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