Published: October 29, 2014
By: Eva Gilpin & Mark Doré
The University’s tuition and fees plan, unveiled at a public forum Tuesday, includes a bump in the University Advancement Fee to accommodate an overtaxed transportation system.
The 2015-2016 plan, which will go before the Board of Regents for approval at its meeting next week, calls for an increase in the UAF by $2.32 per student credit hour and a 1.93 percent tuition increase.
Because of the guaranteed tuition and fee plan instituted last year for undergraduates, any approved hikes in tuition or fees would affect only those students who enter A&M beginning next fall. Current students will not pay the increased rate unless they fail to complete their degree plan in its normal allotted length.
Jerry Strawser, newly appointed vice president for finance and administration, outlined the plan Tuesday to a crowd of students and administrators.
The timing of the proposed increase is intended to allow incoming students complete predictability in the cost of their education, Strawser said. Typically, he said, such increases come later in the year and restrict planning opportunities.
“From a university perspective, what it does is it allows us, first and foremost, to be able to tell our freshman students that are enrolling into Texas A&M next fall exactly what their tuition and fees will be going forward,” Strawser said. “This proposed plan also gives us the ability to plan as we look at what we are looking at over the next four years.”
The 1.93 percent tuition hike is based on the Consumer Price Index over the last four years, Strawser said. The increase equates to an impact of $124 per semester for a general studies student and $140 per semester for an engineering student.
High-quality students are applying to A&M in record numbers, Strawser said, and with that growth comes increased stress on existing tuition and fee structures. That growth has done nothing to sacrifice quality, he said.
“We’re getting bigger, but are we getting weaker? The answer is an emphatic ‘no,’” Strawser said.
Held next to its Vision 2020 peer universities, Strawser said A&M remains an affordable option. Compared to Penn State’s $16,992 tuition and fees, Strawser said, “We’re comparing apples to apples, and apples in Pennsylvania are more expensive than apples in Texas.”
The proposed fee increase stems from a need to alleviate stress on Transportation Services, Strawser said. Bus ridership is up 41 percent from 2012, he said, and A&M’s 122,000 hours of service dwarfs the state average of just more than 41,000.
“When a bus is full and a student is waiting at a bus stop, we have a problem and we need to solve that problem,” Strawser said.
Peter Lange, executive director of Transportation Services, said the bus system is running behind by about 20,000 hours of service, and he looks forward to the jolt the increase will make possible.
“We need busses and drivers and fuel to make this happen,” Lange said. “The request from the advancement fee will allow us to do a little catch-up and hopefully make things a little bit better next year and as soon as spring when new busses come.”
Cary Cheshire, student senator and political science senior, said he believes the University should explore a reallocation of existing UAF funds.
“I think that everyone can look at transportation’s budget and look at the way that they’re operating and say that they’re good stewards of our dollars and that, given our expansion and given our need, that they need more,” Cheshire said. “However, I would like to look at other areas from which we could take that dollar instead of raising student fees.”
Cheshire asks that the time frame be altered so students can have their voices heard.
“What I would like to see is students being more included in the prioritization of existing money that we already have,” Cheshire said. “I would like to see the University coming to us before the week before the Board of Regents meeting, where the fact that this is going to pass is almost assured.”
Ryan Trantham, MSC president and biomedical sciences senior, said students should keep an open mind when evaluating the proposed increase.
“It’s important we recognize that A&M is progressing and developing in a lot of different ways and there are obviously some costs that come along with that,” Trantham said. “Tuition increases for the incoming class are a way to meet that cost.”
Trantham said students should stay informed on the matter so as to help preserve the student experience for future classes.
“The students that are on campus right now, this isn’t going to affect them, but we’re looking out for our fellow Aggies in making sure the same resources we have are available to them when they get here,” Trantham said.
Fernando Sosa, student senator and political science senior, said the change doesn’t affect current students, but that does nothing to diminish its importance.
“I’m a senior, I’m graduating, I won’t have to pay tuition and fees next year, but I shouldn’t be told at the hearing that I shouldn’t worry about it because I am concerned about my constituents as a student senator,” Sosa said. “Just because I’m not coming back next year doesn’t mean that I don’t have their best interest in mind.”
The tuition guarantee that exempts current students from the proposed increases does not extend to graduate students, who will see a number of program-specific fee hikes under the proposed plan.
Christopher Lyons, Graduate and Professional Student Council president, said he would like to see a guaranteed tuition plan for graduate students, or something approaching it. In the meantime, he said the proposed increases matched his expectations.
“I think, personally, that this is along the same lines of conversations that we had last year, knowing that an increase in tuition for graduate, professional and undergraduate students was a foreseeable occurrence in the future,” Lyons said.