University of Texas Grapples With Tuition, Funding

A dispute is brewing at the University of Texas at Austin over who should manage funding and financial aid.

Since 2003, the university has had a deregulated tuition policy, meaning a private board of regents has had the power to set tuition. The Tuition Relief Now Campaign, a bipartisan group on campuses across the state, proposed a resolution called AR 12 to the student government that would end tuition deregulation.

''Deregulation is part of the failed policies of the past five years that have been hurting Texas students and Texas families,'' said Jimmy Talarico, a UT student and statewide director of the campaign.

The group argues in a press release that tuition deregulation places an ''undue burden'' on students and that tuition is ''skyrocketing'' as a result. In-state tuition is $8,532 per year, about $2,000 more than the average annual tuition at public U.S. universities, according to the College Board. Out-of-state students pay $27,760.

The student government voted 23-14 against AR 12, leaving university tuition decisions in the hands of the Board of Regents. Despite the failure of AR 12, Talarico pledged that the Tuition Relief Now Campaign would continue lobbying for the change.

Nationwide Problem

The debate at UT is part of a nationwide discussion at state universities over how to handle tuition rates in an increasingly unstable economic climate. The State University of New York dealt with similar issues last year, when tuition rates jumped suddenly after being at a fixed and relatively low level for a period of time.

At SUNY — which also has a deregulated tuition policy — the Board of Regents adopted what is known as a ''rational tuition hike'' that involves small annual increases in tuition based on the Higher Education Price Index.

In Texas, however, the battle to end tuition deregulation continues. ''It's good that we reached out to student government, but it's not the end of the road,'' said Talarico, referring to the failure of AR 12. ''We're organizing a massive student lobby day this week—we're going to meet at the UT campus and walk over to the Capitol, where we have over 100 appointments scheduled to discuss university funding and financial aid.''

According to student body president Keshav Rajagopalan, the vote wasn't a vote against affordable tuition rates, but against making state legislators responsible for those rates.

'Misguided and Misdirected'

''The assembly voted the way we did because the Tuition Relief Now Campaign's goals are misdirected and misguided,'' Rajagopalan said. ''Tuition relief is important, but the way we felt is that who sets tuition doesn't matter in terms of the relief.''

Rajagopalan said that the primary issues in discussing tuition need to be funding and financial aid. He stressed that focusing on ending tuition deregulation allowed the issue to become little more than a campaign platform for politicians.

''The Tuition Relief Now Campaign just helps legislators make sensationalized claims,'' Rajagopalan said. ''The process we have is better because we're setting our tuition rather than making it a political process that happens every two years.''

Talarico said that although it's easy to get caught up in partisan politics, politicians are a reflection of their constituents and could represent the needs of students fairly.

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