Tuition raise to combat inflation
While this year’s 5.9 percent tuition hike takes its toll on student pocketbooks, UH System Board of Regents Chairman Welcome Wilson said the increase will go a long way to ensure inflationary raises for faculty and staff and improve student services at the University.
"We are very mindful of the plight of students, but denying our faculty a cost of living raise would be sending the wrong signal," Wilson said, noting the cost of living rose nearly 3.9 percent last year.
The 5.5 percent systemwide increase, approved by the Board in May, is expected to generate $17 million in annual revenue.
UH-Downtown, UH-Clear Lake and UH-Victoria received tuition hikes of 4.1 percent, 5.9 percent and 5 percent respectively.
UH undergraduate tuition and fees will increase $185 for a student taking 12 semester credit hours, for a total of $3,328 from last year’s $3,144.
Of the increased revenue, $1.9 million will go toward faculty and staff recruitment and retention.
"We want to stay competitive in terms of services, in terms of costs, in terms of production," UH President Renu Khator said. "We have dedicated every single cent from that tuition to go back into the student."
The price of meal plans will rise to improve the quality of Aramark, the University’s food contractor, and the cost of housing will increase to account for personnel raises. Students will also have to pay more for parking in the garage.
Nearly $2.6 million of the additional funds will be reserved for financial aid.
To provide additional financial aid to new freshmen from lower-income families, the Cougar Promise, also approved by the Board, will cover tuition and fees for freshmen whose family income is $30,000 or less. To be eligible for the Cougar Promise, part of the Student Government Association’s proposed five-point plan to provide financial relief to students, incoming freshmen must be eligible to receive federal financial aid, maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and enroll in at least 12 semester credit hours each semester.
"We ended up coming out with a lot more than an increase," SGA President Sam Dike said.
The Board also approved a 6 percent cap for tuition increases for incoming freshmen, reduced rates for selected summer IV courses, and increased the maximum adjusted gross family income required for students to be exempt from paying tuition and mandatory fees to $30,000 from $25,000, all of which were derived from the SGA’s five-point plan.
The 5.9 percent rise in tuition will also fund student services areas such as financial aid, enrollment and technology support to make them more accessible for students.
Courtney Roberson, a pre-nursing sophomore, said she’ll have to work more to afford classes because of the tuition hike.
"Even my financial aid won’t cover the cost of tuition, so I’m still out of pocket $2,000," said Roberson, who enrolled in 12 hours this semester. "I wanted to take 16, but I had to drop a class so I could afford it."
Wilson is convinced that while UH will witness a rise in enrollment, students facing economic hardships will attend UHD instead because it’s more affordable.
"More students will enroll in (UH)-Downtown where tuition is less," Wilson said.
Within the past decade, the cost of tuition at UH has more than tripled. While this year’s rise in tuition and fees for UH only translates into about 2 percent of new revenue, some worry that tuition is becoming unpredictable and unaffordable. The most dramatic upturns since 1998 took place in the years after tuition was de-regulated by Texas in 2003.
Deregulation allows governing boards of public universities to set different tuition rates without a cap on the amount they charge students.
It’s more difficult for working-class families to forecast sending their kids to college, State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said.
"When they raise tuition, they take the easy way out on the backs of students," said Whitmire, a UH alumnus. "I don’t agree with the (tuition) increase in the face of high gas prices, as most UH students are commuters."
Whitmire said the University should have held out until the Legislative session in January to request more state funding.
"I was disappointed they did it at the time they did it," Whitmire said. "They should have waited and asked the legislatures to put more money into higher education."
Waiting for the Legislative session for more funding, however, may mean withholding incremental salary increases from staff and faculty, Wilson said.
"What we’re trying to do is pay rent, pay salaries and keep the quality," Wilson said. "What are we supposed to do in the mean time?"