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Governor Tells Universities to Control Tuition, Graduate Students

Shelley Kofler

Governor Rick Perry is putting new pressure on universities to contain tuition and graduate more students.

Monday in Dallas, Perry singled out the University of Texas at Dallas as he formally announced his higher education plan.

He introduced political science student Cody Willming who paid a little over $5,300 a semester for tuition and fees when he enrolled at UTD two years.

Right now UTD has the highest tuition structure among Texas public universities, but it’s a cost that won’t go up for Willming if he graduates in four years.

Willming thinks it’s a good deal.

“It encouraged me to graduate on time,” Willming said

The predictability of fixed tuition makes it easier for him to pull together the money he needs each year.

“I can’t imagine trying to deal with that while trying to hit a moving target in terms of tuition and fees. For me having that stationary target I can hit every year has really made a difference and really simplified the process.”

UTD is the state’s only public university offering fixed, four-year tuition, but Governor Perry wants other schools to freeze their tuition too.

“I think what we’re looking for is consistency for the taxpayers," Perry said.

The tuition freeze is getting mixed reviews on university campuses. University of Texas at Arlington President James Spaniolo points to deep, uneven cuts in state money for universities and says it would be difficult to freeze a source of revenue, like tuition, when state funding fluctuates.

“I think that’s why the two need to go together,” Spaniolo said. “Predictable stable funding from the legislature makes it possible for us to be much more restrained in the charges we make for tuition and other fees for our students.”

University of North Texas Chancellor Lee Jackson, however, believes the governor’s tuition freeze could be the basis for putting college within reach of more students.

“If the state will work with us and allow us to have different plans that fit different universities I think we could make this work at virtually every university in the state,” Jackson said.

Chancellor Jackson supports another of Governor Perry’s higher ed measures that is bound to get some pushback. The governor wants to link 10 percent of a university’s state funding to whether its students are graduating.

“If you’re not graduating your students you’re going to get less state money,” Perry said.

Perry says that right now just 30 percent of Texas students graduate in four years. Only 58 percent earn degrees in six years. The governor says that’s unacceptable.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.