UT System Pushing 4-Year Tuition Option

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by Jim Vertuno, Associated Press

AUSTIN Texas — University of Texas System regents on Thursday ordered their campuses to offer students a four-year, fixed-rate tuition option by fall of 2014 to encourage them to graduate on time.

After a decade of rising tuition costs, Gov. Rick Perry has been pushing universities to offer fixed-rate tuition to help students and their families budget for college. The Legislature also is considering writing the four-year tuition option into state law.

The University of Texas System has nine campuses with about 216,000 students. The UT-Dallas campus already has been using a mandatory fixed-rate tuition plan since 2008, and UT-El Paso has been offering an optional plan since 2006.

Under the regents’ order, the other seven schools will be required to develop optional fixed-rate plans. Each campus would set their tuition rates.

Supporters say the plan will encourage students to graduate in four years. The four-year graduation rate at UT-Dallas for students entering in the fall of 2006 was 45 percent. That number jumped to 51 percent for students who entered in fall 2008, once the school adopted its four-year tuition plan.

At UT-El Paso, students on the four-year tuition plan start out paying more than those who aren’t on the plan promise their rates won’t go up. The plan does not appear to be a popular choice: Of UT-El Paso’s 22,700 students, only 108 are enrolled in the four-year tuition program, according to university figures.

Texas college students have faced significant tuition spikes in recent years, with the average student at a state university paying 55 percent more than a decade ago.

The state set tuition caps until 2003, which helped make college more affordable. But, faced with a significant budget gap that year, lawmakers cut state money to universities and allowed campuses to set their own tuition rates.

Schools began using tuition rates to raise money as the Legislature cut state higher education funding. In 2011, lawmakers cut nearly $1 billion from higher education funding.

Other higher education systems around the country have adopted fixed-rate plans, notably Georgia and Illinois, Texas regents said.

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