Cindy Folefack
News Editor

Plan comes after a dramatic decrease in state funding

Incoming UTD students may have a higher tuition rate this fall if the school’s proposal is approved in February. The move comes after a sharp decrease in state funding.

The budget for the Texas Research Incentive Program was cut from $138 million for 2016-2017 to $35 million for 2018-2019. TRIP is a program that began in 2009 and incentivizes people to make philanthropic contributions to research, which are then matched by the state. The school held forums on Dec. 1 and Dec. 4 to allow students and faculty to learn more about the plan.

The decrease in TRIP funding means that UTD will receive $150,000, despite being eligible for $22.6 million. In addition, the school will receive $4.71 million less from the state for 2018-2019, despite a 9 percent enrollment increase from fall 2015 to fall 2016.

“TRIP helped us receive grants and gifts that we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, but it’s a first-in first-out system,” said President Richard Benson. “At some point, all of the existing funds were depleted, so the hope was the last state legislative session would replenish the fund. They didn’t fully replenish the fund, and a lot of UTD’s funding was at the back end, meaning we weren’t the first, we were a little bit later.”

The proposal would provide two options: the traditional fixed tuition plan, with an 8 percent increase from the current price that would remain valid for 12 consecutive semesters, and a variable-tuition plan, which is already offered by other UT schools. The variable plan would have an immediate 4.5 percent increase from the current price, then increase by a variable rate annually.

The Board previously approved a UTD tuition increase proposal which affected new students in 2016 and 2017. The previous proposal included a 2.9 percent increase for undergraduate students, a 4.5 percent increase for non-resident undergraduates and a 3.9 percent increase for resident undergraduates.

Other UT schools, including UT Tyler and UT El Paso, are also using tuition increases to make up for a loss in state funding. The tuition increase is not finalized yet, because the Board of Regents will hold a vote on the tuition proposals in February. Benson said the increase is necessary because of numerous cuts to funding.

“With every passing year, we want to make sure that we have at least as much funding per student as the year before,” Benson said. “The fact is, we’ve not been successful in that regard. In fact, it’s been trending down and this particular year, we took a very steep drop from state funding. Consequently, and reluctantly, we felt that we had to compensate by increasing tuition more than we otherwise would’ve wanted to.”

Existing merit-based aid programs such as the Academic Excellence Scholarship will remain in place and the value of these programs will increase along with tuition. Comet Connection, a program allowing transfer students to adopt the tuition rate in place at the time of their transfer, will also be unaffected whether or not the Board approves the proposal, and new transfer students will be offered both plans.

“We’re going to give each student the option to pick the plan that they want, so it will be up to the student to pick whichever plan they think works best for them,” Benson said.

The new tuition plans won’t be available to current students, and incoming students will have to remain on the same plan during their time at UTD, so they won’t be allowed to switch between the plans offered.

“All the undergraduates that are here right now came in on a four-year fixed model, so you were promised that your tuition would not go up for four years,” Benson said. “The reason why you wouldn’t choose to switch is that the new tuition will be higher, so it will be applied to new students this fall.”

UTD’s tuition rate became the highest of all UT System schools after it introduced the fixed tuition plan in 2007. This has remained true since the fixed plan was introduced. In fact, UTD’s fall 2016 tuition was $5,903 compared to the statewide average of $4,374 at the time. However, Student Government President JW Van der Schans said that UTD would implement the currently proposed tuition change only for incoming students, whereas other UT schools would apply the increase to all students.

“(UTD) is asking for the variable rate option for students because it’s slightly cheaper, but inflation is a factor that could make it more expensive,” he said. “The school is also asking so that it’s easier to compare the tuition rates between schools.”

The increase in tuition will encompass fees as well, covering various aspects of student life such as UTDPD, the Student Counseling Center and the Student Health Center.

“We understand as students that tuition encompasses student fees, but they’re two separate things,” Van der Schans said. “As an outsider looking in, you don’t know that there’s a portion that goes to student fees and a portion that goes to tuition.”

The Board previously approved a UTD tuition increase proposal which affected new students in 2016 and 2017. The previous proposal included a 2.9 percent increase for undergraduate students, a 4.5 percent increase for non-resident undergraduates and a 3.9 percent increase for resident undergraduates.

Benson said the amount of students in STEM disciplines, which are dynamic and expensive programs, resulted in the need for another increase.

“To hire the faculty that we need and have the laboratories that we need, I hate to say it, but it all takes money,” Benson said. “This will determine the degree to which we can populate those departments and those programs.”