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Regents approve tuition hike

Handful of students voice concerns

Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 23:01

The Texas A&M Board of Regents approved a guaranteed tuition and fees plan that will go into effect Fall 2014 at Thursday’s general meeting in Galveston.

Associate vice president for external affairs, Chad Wooten, said the guaranteed tuition and fees plan was drafted to comply with state statutes of House Bill 29 and to clarify fees and expenses for students.

Since House Bill 29 requires public universities in Texas have a guaranteed tuition rate for a student’s first four years of enrollment in the institution, the new tuition and fees plan will consolidate more than 7,000 fees and instead make them into predictable course or program fees, said provost Karan Watson.

Depending on class year at the time the plan goes into effect, Watson said the plan will increase A&M student tuition up to 3.3 percent. Students’ overall tuition and fees also will depend on what college the student is enrolled, Watson said.

“Because we have differential tuitions by colleges and because of how we are converting the course fees, the guarantee we will give is different for different colleges,” Watson said.

Watson said the seniors will see the lowest increase at a rate below one percent. Watson said this is because only three — not four — years of inflation were considered in setting the rates. Incoming freshmen will see the largest increase, which Watson said is to battle projected inflation and to avoid depleting financial aid funds.

Watson said the guaranteed tuition plan does not cover expenses for outside options such as studying abroad and textbook costs. Watson also said the plan gives students a break in the summer by allowing students to take courses at a reduced price.

Cary Cheshire, Student Senate finance chair and senior political science major, attended the meeting to explain the reasons he opposed the tuition increases. Cheshire said the way the proposal was shared was rushed and not transparent enough. Cheshire said the fact that the meeting was being held in Galveston rather than College Station suggested the Board of Regents attempting to deter resistance from students.

“I just feel the way this was presented to the students was rather rushed and rather contrived,” Cheshire said. “I attended the meeting on Dec. 4 in the middle of dead week right before finals. I can tell you that there were only six students in attendance, you have three before you today 150 miles away. I just feel [this proposal] was a really important thing to know [about].”Fernando Sosa, junior political science major, said there was a lack of transparency and of student opinion in the making of the guaranteed tuition and fee plan.

“There hasn’t been any opinion from student government on this,” Sosa said. “The last time we met to discuss this issue was early last semester and all we were told was that administration had to come up with a plan that offered guaranteed tuition as an option for students and we didn’t find out until recently, I believe until this agenda that was published, that this was going to become mandatory for all students.”

Phil Adams, chairman of the Board of Regents, said the meeting was called in Galveston at a time when this issue wasn’t being factored into the meeting place. As a sign of respect, a Board of Regents meeting is held on a branch campus each year.

“Please know we didn’t call this meeting in Galveston because we were going to be taking this [matter] up,” Adams said. “I made the decision in the fall that we were going to have this meeting away from the A&M [College Station] campus. Of course we didn’t plan the meeting somewhere else because we knew we were going to be dealing with this issue.”

Austin Luce, senior political science major, said as a student who pays for his own school, this increase will make it more difficult for students like him who take out loans or work to pay for their education at A&M.

Finance chair of the Board of Regents, Charles Schwartz, said the board is aware of the hardships on students and that it worked to comply with House Bill 29 and avoid overly burdening students.

“We are very aware of the pressures and vice of tuition increases and their effect on those who are actually called upon to pay it,” Schwartz said. “I’m the finance chair and I’ve given this a lot of thought. I have thought long and hard about this very issue.”

Cheshire said he knows under House Bill 29 that the option for a guaranteed tuition rate across four years must be offered, but he doesn’t think that has to be the only mandated option.

Schwartz said since national and academic inflation is unpredictable, allowing options would also not be viable because the variable cost may be more than the guaranteed price for some years rather than less, as was the voiced assumption.

Regent Jim Schwertner said offering two different payment plans and letting students opt in for which one they want would be highly unpredictable and the funds coming into the University would be near impossible to calculate.

“It’s our job to make sure we have enough money to run this institution,” Schwertner said. “Predictability. It’s either got to be one way or the other, and the state says we must offer a guaranteed four-year plan.”

Regent Anthony Buzbee said the University is simply trying to comply with state law and having options is not sensible.

“We are between a rock and a hard place,” Buzbee said. “The vote that matters has already happened. We’ve been told [by the state] this must be done. We can’t make it optional because then we don’t know who will choose guaranteed and who will not and we frankly cannot run the numbers that way. We can’t operate that way.”

Cheshire said he worries that with this plan being required of all students, Texas A&M might follow in the steps of The University of Texas at Dallas, which after enacting a guaranteed tuition and fee plan is now one of the more expensive universities in the state.

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