Nidhi GotgiMercury Staff
Teenaz RalhanMercury Staff
UPDATE: The UT System Board of Regents approved proposed tuition increases from universities within the System on Feb. 29.
At UTD, the Regents approved a 2.9 percent increase for resident and non-resident undergraduate students for fall 2016 and 2017, a 3.9 percent percent increase for resident graduate students for fall 2016 and fall 2017 and a 4.5 percent increase for non-resident graduate students for fall 2016 and fall 2017.
University aims to pay for faculty salaries, buildings among other expenses
Editor’s note: The first paragraph of this story has been updated for clarity
For the first time in four years, a tuition increase may be coming to UTD.
President Ad Interim Hobson Wildenthal submitted a proposal for a tuition increase to the UT System Board of Regents on Dec. 7.
UTD is considering a 6.4 percent increase in resident and non-resident undergraduate tuition, an 8.5 percent increase in resident graduate tuition and a 10.4 percent increase in non-resident graduate tuition.
This proposed increase would only affect incoming students starting Fall 2016, as current students have fixed tuition rates under the Guaranteed Tuition Plan. The Regents will vote on a decision about the proposal in February.
Inflation has decreased the value of UTD’s income over the last few years, and there hasn’t been a rise in costs in the past four years.
“(Chancellor William McRaven) had presented the Regents a concept that the universities needed to have a base 2 percent per year increase to deal with inflation,” Wildenthal said. “And that it was conceivable that (the universities) would ask for more than 2 percent to deal with competitive gaps, and the Regents were receptive to considering that kind of proposal.”
He said the university is already operating at a deficit and, if student costs don’t increase, it could lead to cutbacks on services.
“We’re not affording what we’re doing now. We’ve got two layers: things we need to do that we’re not doing, but to be honest, we can’t afford to do what we’ve been doing because you can’t continue to run a deficit,” he said.
The additional funding that the tuition increase would provide would go towards hiring more advisors and teachers’ assistants, provide competitive salaries to TA’s and health insurance to graduate students and rehabilitate old spaces while building new ones with more equipment.
Wildenthal said that if the tuition increase isn’t approved, the university would still be able to function, but the quality of education would diminish.
“We’ve reached the point that we won’t be allowed to run a deficit much longer, but is it institution-threatening? No, it’s just going to start having an impact on the institution we have right now, because we’re not quite paying for the one we’ve got right now,” he said.
He highlighted the fact that financial aid programs would continue to tackle affordability issues for low-income families.
“Our goal is to keep things the same,” Wildenthal said. “The problem is things will not remain the same if we don’t increase the per capita income.”
According to a town hall meeting hosted by the dean of the School of Management, the proposed increase is expected to bring in $10 million in revenue in the next academic year. However, only a third of the student body next year will be paying those increased rates.
The allotment of the new income will follow a similar model that is currently being used. More expensive programs like engineering, graduate programs and management will receive more funding to cover the costs. However, if more pressing issues arise, the funding will be redirected to prioritize spending.
“Priorities will emerge,” Wildenthal said. “Some of these things you can’t control. We know what we need but also know what our deficit is and so the extra money will have to go in part to deal with debt problems and to partially deal with enhancement issues — but it’s going to take years to address (enhancement) issues.”
One of the reasons for the proposed increase cited by the Deputy Chancellor of the UT System David Daniel was the need to retain faculty and staff with competitive salaries.
Wildenthal said that the competition doesn’t lie so much within other universities in the UT System as it did elsewhere in the professional world in a non-academic setting.
“Our salaries in the UT System are high,” he said. “We have made faculty and staff salaries a high priority over the years. The real competitive pressures are not in Texas universities but in the Dallas-Fort Worth economy.”
Currently, UTD’s budget primarily consists of tuition and fee payments that amount to $380 million. The university’s total endowment is $400 million, with $16 million used per year. However, this money is prescribed to very specific purposes.
Wildenthal said he anticipates that income from grants and contracts and state funding won’t go up anytime soon.
“There is no magic bullet other than tuition fees,” Wildenthal said. “We’re doing a great job, but we need to do an even better job. We can’t even afford the great job we’re doing now without more money. We’ve been running at a deficit and our debt ratios have gone the wrong way and at some point they’ll say you can’t do that again.”
All the universities in the UT System are proposing tuition increases. While the plan is still in the making, some of the proposed facets — like the amount of increase to be expected and where this new money would possibly go — have been revealed.
Caitlynn Fortner, the Student Government president, and Grant Branam, SG vice-president, met with Wildenthal in October to discuss the proposed increase and have been answering students’ questions regarding this proposal.
“Nothing is guaranteed. All the UT System schools are asking for different things according to their specific needs,” Fortner said. “UT Dallas is arguing for some pretty large increases. So, 6.4 percent for undergrads and 10.4 percent for non-resident grad students.”
Branam said that there is some validity in asking for these large increases because UTD is trying its very best to get to Tier One status. The money would be used to pay for resources that the university does not have access to right now and would help the university reach its goal.
“One big question that was brought up during our system meeting was that it is really hard to find the balance of sacrifice. So how much do you want to take from the salary that you pay to faculty and give that to the students?” Branam said. “And I think that not a single person is going to have the answer to that question and it is possibly going to come from the conversation that we have with administration.”
Fortner said that while salary increases for faculty are important, she would also like to see some of this money go to student services directly.
“This is the first year in a really long time that the Board of Regents has agreed to even consider tuition and fee increases,” Fortner said. “So I think that Dr. Wildenthal sees this as a rare opportunity that they might not get for a while.”
Branam said that the student body has not displayed a strong opinion either way as of yet. Student opinions have been gauged through the town-hall meetings.
“I remember I was in a committee meeting in an open area and a student overheard tuition fee increase. (He was) very against it — he didn’t like it at all — and when I told him it didn’t apply to him, he was like, ‘Oh well, it might be a good thing,’” Branam said. “I don’t think it was him saying that tuition increase is a good thing, but I think a lot of students think that if there is a tuition increase, then they would have to pay it — which they don’t — because it only applies to new students because we do have a locked-in rate.”
Wildenthal said that although the university can continue to function without the added income from the tuition, the quality of education wouldn’t improve.
“Yes, you can survive and we’ve been surviving years and years by not having as many TAs as we needed and not having as many advisors as we’d like to have, so things are not going to drastically change,” Wildenthal said. “But the trajectory will have to change a little bit. Right now, we’re diverging between our income and our expenses and we’ve got to get the two parallel again at the very least.”
The PROS OF HIGHER TUITION
At this point in the game, it’s pretty clear that the tuition raise is simply non-negotiable. If students want basic functions of the university, like hiring faculty and staff that can cater to our high demands, this raise needs to happen. Even though UTD already has the highest tuition of any public school in the state of Texas, the university helps its students with financial aid packages and scholarships.
Having higher tuition isn’t going to make more students want to come to school here, which may hurt UTD when it comes to getting high quality students. But when the alternative of not being able to pay bills is put into perspective, it really isn’t that big of a loss.
-Esteban Bustillos, Editor-in-Chief
THE CONS OF HIGHER TUITION
While it may not be a secret by now that UTD is in desperate need of a tuition raise just to pay to keep itself afloat, it doesn’t mean it’s something we should praise automatically.
Student debt is already a massive issue in this country and the idea of a university raising the costs for students to attend school can be detrimental. While this particular increase in tuition may not be the end of the world, it makes me wonder what will happen in the future. Will there be more and more increases in how much it costs to go to school? How much say will students actually have in these decisions? It’s a chilling thought, but this tuition increase may open the door to more hikes in pay on the road to Tier One.
-Esteban Bustillos, Editor-in-Chief