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Tuition War in Texas: UT Faculty Wants More

A new fight over higher education is brewing in Texas, where a decline in contributions from the state government has prompted the University of Texas’ flagship Austin campus to propose a tuition hike on in-state students that would push tuition above $10,000 per year. The school’s president, William Powers, Jr., has been leading the push for tuition increases, and the faculty has given him their support, unanimously voting last week to back the proposal, according to the Wall Street Journal. The plan is meeting resistance, however, from the Board of Regents, as well as Governor Rick Perry, who has issued a challenge to UT schools to look at ways to cut costs and offer a bachelors degrees to Texas residents for only $10,000 (total, not per year).

Now the fight is on. Although some schools in the University of Texas system have responded favorably to Governor Perry’s request, faculty at the Austin campus have raised concerns that a tuition freeze of any sort could make it difficult for the school to remain competitive with other top schools around the country. Perhaps more surprisingly, many students are joining the faculty in protest of the freeze, citing concerns about quality of education.

You can always make a case for more revenue, and even with the higher tuition proposed under the plan, UT remains one of the great bargains in American education, but American universities need to lead by redesigning themselves to deliver a better product at a lower cost. Faculty senates know what faculties want—and it is almost always more resources to go on doing things the same way but in more comfort. But faculty senates are generally focused on protecting the rights and the privileges of the academic guild. Sometimes guild interests align with the public interest; often, they do not.

UT faculty by and large think that what Texas needs is a flagship public university which is a first class research university—as that concept was developed in the second half of the twentieth century. What the state actually needs is a first class twenty-first century university, and that is almost certainly something that delivers more education to more students at less cost per head than the universities of the last century. The nature of faculty appointments probably needs to change; tenure may not play the same role in the future as it has in the past; “research” may not play the same role in faculty responsibilities and compensation, especially outside of the natural sciences.

Faculty senates are going to fight all these changes tooth and nail; so will administrators who are products of the system and can’t imagine a great university in any other form.

Via Meadia doesn’t think the answer to our university problems is to go all Henry VIII on them, and close down the cloisters. But if universities don’t develop a greater capacity for self criticism and self reform, Henry VIII—perhaps in the form of Governor Perry or others like him—will be knocking at the door much sooner than they think.

 

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  • WigWag

    I completely agree with Via Meadia that higher education is in need of dramatic reform, that tenure may be outmoded, that universities operate very inefficiently and that they need to do more with less.

    On the other hand, $50,000 for a top notch education at the University of Texas at Austin doesn’t strike me as particularly onerous. No student is going to face a lifetime of debt that they can’t repay as a result of tuition at this level; no one is going to have to delay gettting married or having children because they paid $50,000 for a four year education.

    I also think its reasonable that the University of Texas system should have one top notch research university. That doesn’t mean that for every Texas student who wants to attend a state institution that Austin is the right place for them. It is entirely reasonable for the Governor and the Regents to try to keep tuition low so students are not impoverished by seeking an education.

    Nevertheless, $50,000 to get a bachelors degree at Austin seems pretty appropriate to me. Of course, to be fair, probably the only reason that the tuition is this low to begin with is that Texas taxpayers, most of whom will never attend a state university, are paying a large part of the tuition bill.

  • John Barker

    I just heard an address by the newly appointed president of our state university who believes it is his duty to make us into a Harvard-in the-Great Basin. The 10K degrees sounds like a stirring battle cry.

  • Walter Sobchak

    UT Faculty Want More Money.

    That’s easy. Men in hell want ice water.

    Do they get it?

    Hell, no.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Perry should agree to the tuition hike and have the legislature fund a new Texas Online Certification System that provides credentials for all state licensed occupations.

  • DirtyJobsGuy

    When Perry was running for President I often thought of his actions on controlling college costs as a winner. But he didn’t captialize on them. The problem is that we have so degraded the BA/BS degree that it is impossibly hard to change. Perry recognized that so long as employers use a BA as a clearing credential you had to keep it cheap. The problem is that you cannot have so many people doing this and keep the product quality high. Perhaps what he should do is clean the Governments shop. Cops and Teachers don’t need phony master’s degrees to succeed. At least the cops realize this and go for mail order degrees! There is no reason a law degree cannot be taught as an undergraduate major (to be followed by an apprenticeship). Ditto for social workers, reporters and many writers.

    I feel we can apply the Abe Lincoln test. He wrote the most moving documents in the country’s history, managed a nation in civil ward yet only had a smattering of formal education. He lived in a highly technical time with Railroads, Telegraphs (the internet of the time) and ironclads butwas able to manage them all. He could manage any enterprise today as could most of his contemporaries. He knew more history than most university graduates do today.

    So what has been gained except in the Sciences and Technology education?

  • Kansas Scott

    Cool Henry VIII reference.

  • Boritz

    In the late 70s a semester at UT Austin cost $229 for 15 semester hours. That price included the misc fees for this and that and represented the Total bill from the bursar. Two long sessions then was $458.
    According to the CPI for then vs now the price today should be around $1564 for the same two semester load of around 30 semester hours. For four years that would come to a little over $6000. Of course this isn’t a consumer item. Not at all. Nope.

  • Larry J

    “On the other hand, $50,000 for a top notch education at the University of Texas at Austin doesn’t strike me as particularly onerous.”

    Don’t forget to include books, fees and living expenses. Those add many thousand dollars to the cost of a degree.

    “I also think its reasonable that the University of Texas system should have one top notch research university.”

    If you’re talking about research that has practical benefits, such as in medicine, the sciences and engineering, then you have a point. However, a great deal of the research being done at universities serves very little purpose other than to survive the “publish or perish” threshold. Very little of the research in those other fields is even read or referenced by others. Some of the “research”, such as in the arean of K-12 education, may actually be harmful. How many of the education fads of the past 40 years have actually worked in real classrooms?

  • http://willcollier.com Will Collier

    Inflation in tuition, even at Texas, which is still apparently one of the “cheaper” schools is astonishing. When I started graduate school at UT (aerospace engineering) a few months shy of 20 years ago, in-state tuition was about $750 a semester. Today it’s $5,240, essentially seven times higher.

    Is there another sector of the economy that’s seen prices septuple over 20 years? I doubt it. I also doubt that the quality of instruction is seven times better today than it was in 1992.

  • Dan

    “… faculty senates are generally focused on protecting the rights and the privileges of the academic guild”

    Exactly right. It’s been that way for centuries. And it’s not just academia … that pursuit of privileges and exclusivity is basic to human nature.

    “Perhaps more surprisingly, many students are joining the faculty in protest of the freeze, citing concerns about quality of education.”

    Some students want the same thing the faculty wants — the ability to claim some exclusive privilege due someone who paid more for a “quality” education.

  • Hook Em

    Yep, Boritz, you’re correct.

    That $229/semester you describe for the late 70’s represents about a 100% increase over the $125 or so charged per semester when I attended UT starting in the late 60’s.

    In the late 60’s and early 70’s, my tuition for each semester at UT Austin cost about the same as the text books required for all the courses taken that semester.

    Don’t know why students don’t just go on strike for lower tuition rather than go on strike for increased tuition to pay for higher faculty salaries.

    Don’t think it would take even one full semester of empty classes and zero tuition income for serious reforms to be applied to reverse tuition and salary inflation.

    The current crop of students must have a logic deficiencies produced by declining quality of education at public schools.

    Hard to understand why they think it’s great to say: “Hey, let’s pay more tuition so we can pay professors more so we’re competitive with all those other universities jumping off the cliff with higher and higher cost of poorer and poorer education!!!”

  • TexUte

    Public universities in Texas were once an incredible bargain, as Boritz noted. That served the interests of the state well. Maybe we should get back to that model.

  • John

    What’s the retirement age for gollege professors these days? 67, like everyone else, right? Right?

  • teapartydoc

    People sucking on the public teat (my/our teat, by the way) need to do what the rest of us are doing: get by with less, or risk not getting anything (my preference).

  • MCS

    I am a professor at a private Texas university and gravely concerned about the cost of higher education. However, it isn’t the cost of faculty or the direct costs of instruction that is fueling the insanity. It is the increase in non-instructional staff- they do the govt. regulation compliance, the hand-holding services, and run the extra-curricular explosion of climbing walls and all the other treats that students have come to expect. In a culture where college students spend twice as much time socializing as studying and in loco parentis means “in place of helicopter parents”, the costs are bound to go up.

  • professoredwards

    The idealist is me says no way. On the other hand, the parent in me with a fully paid Texas Tomorrow plan says hell yeah. More $$ if my kid decides on Indiana, Wisconsin, UCLA, Hillsdale, Rhodes, etc…

  • pashley1411

    Its all very well to ask what is a good price and all that for higher education in America.

    But the realty is that the middle class is in a desperate zero sum game with many sectors that are protected from efficiency by government subsidy, not the least of which is academia.

  • srp

    The only reason to have a central state flagship university in the first place (not counting football) is to create a research environment. Otherwise you may as well just have local teaching units.

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