Waxing fees spur campus growth
As many students dig deep in their pockets to meet this year’s 6.9 percent increase for tuition and fees, the University of Houston System Board of Regents said that the increase is making UH – and the education it offers – the best that it can be.
The increase is expected to bring in an additional $12.3 million in funding for UH.
"Our main priorities were to hire new faculty and to offer support for undergraduate enrollment, academic advising, restoring financial aid staff, admissions and transfer scholarships," Board of Regents Chairman Leroy Hermes said.
"All those areas are important to the University and to elevating the stature of the University," he said.
The University’s 6.9 percent increase in tuition and fees translates to a $202 increase for a 12-hour course load, up to $3,144 total for the semester from last year’s $2,942.
In addition to the $12.3 million that tuition will bring in, the general student service fee, approved by the Student Fee Advisory Committee in the spring, will bring in about $700,000.
Of the total $13 million in increased revenue, $2.2 million, or about 16.9 percent, has been set aside for financial aid programs.
The additional revenue will also be used for graduate enrollment, academic infrastructure support and campus security, which will emphasize the improvement of teacher-to-student ratio and the academic process, Hermes said.
UH Vice President and Donald Foss said the funds also contribute to an average 4 percent salary increase for faculty and to offset rising costs within the University.
"The cost of technology continues to increase, and funds will be used to keep up," he said.
The Board had approved a "sliding scale" formula in April for determining this year’s tuition based on final state funding to the University, but the board ultimately opted for a smaller increase to reduce costs for students, Hermes said.
"We set up our initial goals based on a hope that we would receive in the appropriations bill enough to be able to keep our increase down around 6 or 7 percent. As it turned out, the amount that we received would have required us to raise tuition and fees 9 percent," he said.
Hermes said that 9 percent was "too much of a burden" for students and the Board of Regents reviewed its plan again.
"We went back and looked at the numbers and decided at 6.9 percent," he said. "It was an attempt to be as generous as we could with the students and still achieve as much of our goals as possible."
Achieving flagship status
To accommodate a smaller tuition increase, Hermes said the
Board cut back a portion of all goal areas while still maintaining the University’s vision.
"The primary goal or the ultimate goal of the University is to achieve ‘Tier 1’ flagship status. That will be achieved through raising the quality of the University through research, and that research relates to research dollars that are expended and gained by the University through federal and private funding," he said.
UH plans on implementing more research projects to produce knowledgeable undergraduate students, Hermes said.
To achieve the goal of flagship status, the Board is striving to improve every area of UH, Hermes said.
"It’s kind of like a high tide raises all boats – that’s basically what it comes down to," he said. "This will not preclude anyone from entering the University, it’s just doing a better job of providing services to the students and giving them the opportunity to succeed."
According to tuition and fees data compiled by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, between Fall 2002 and Spring 2006, the cost to students attempting 15 semester credit hours at UH rose by nearly 40 percent, and Student Government Association President David Rosen is calling for the University to be more fiscally conservative.
He said UH’s push for flagship status as a research university could jeopardize its established reputation for diversity and affordability.
"We can’t charge nontraditional students traditional rates. Freshman orientation, we were so proud: second-most diversified school in the nation," he said. "If we really want to embrace the folks that fall into those categories, we won’t keep increasing tuition and fees."
Increases force students to drop classes, pick up more jobs or incur more debt on top of already difficult finances, Rosen said.
"Our students are more vulnerable to this sort of thing to begin with," he said. "I think at some point during the tuition and fee process, we were talking more about getting to ‘Tier 1’ status than protecting the most vulnerable students at our school."
Hermes said UH has not seen any changes in the school’s touted diversity since tuition was de-regulated in 2003, and the Board of Regents gained the power to set the rates.
"I don’t think we’ve seen any trends toward the diversity of the University of Houston changing at all," he said. "Diversity numbers are holding pretty steady."
As far as current students are concerned, Rosen said many don’t see immediate benefits and improvements to UH as their fee bills increase.
"We need to look and seriously and honestly ask if we’re getting what we paid for," he said. "For the people here immediately, we’re really falling through the cracks on this. We’re paying for buildings that haven’t been built yet; we’re paying for buildings we’ll never be using. I think it’s possible to achieve both our short-term goals and our long-term goals."
Rosen said UH’s priorities for the increased funding from the tuition hike should go toward campus safety and advising to help more students graduate in a timely manner.
"Some people might argue that increasing tuition and fees would encourage students to get out faster," he said. "Rather than go that approach, I think more kids would graduate in four or five years if our academic advising was better staffed."