Divided regents approve fee increase

May 07, 2012
Trevor Stevens | The Battalion Online

Tuition to remain at 2011-2012 levels

In a sea of suits, administrators and a sprinkling of students from across the Texas A&M System attended the A&M System board of regents meeting late last week in the MSC ballroom to set tuition and mandatory fees rates.
 
The board held designated tuition flat at the System’s flagship university for the 2012-2013 academic year, but approved an increase in differential tuition for the College of Education and Human Development, four mandatory fees and the establishment of a “student success fee.”
 
The nine voting members on the board of regents did not consider each case individually, but voted on tuition and fee requests from each of the 12 System campuses. Three of the nine voted against the agenda to increase tuition and fees Friday morning. Non-voting student regent Fernando Trevino Jr., junior political science major, had mixed reactions to the vote.
 
“There’s a difference between wants and needs, and I saw a clear need for tuition increase in places such as Texarkana where their population has just boomed in the last two years,” Trevino said. “On the other hand, I feel that an increase in cost at Texas A&M was much more of a want.”
 
Texas A&M University was the only institution in the System to hold designated tuition flat. Regents approved differential tuition of $300 per semester for a full-time student in the College of Education and Human Development — a $100 increase.
 
The board also approved an increase of about 1 percent in total cost to students by way of mandatory fees.
 
There will be a $43.58 increase in fees for both the fall and spring. The fees that were raised were the computer access fee ($22.50 increase), library use fee ($15 increase), Student Recreation Center fee ($4.08 increase) and University Writing Center fee ($2 increase).
 
The student success fee that regents approved was the center of much question and concern for both regents and students.
 
Jason Cook, A&M vice president for marketing and communication, said the student success fee will address issues such as graduation rates, student retention and high-impact learning experiences such as study abroad and undergraduate research. The fee will be funded through the reallocation of existing mandatory fees, and not increase the net cost to students, Cook said.
 
Trevino said the reason for his opposition to the fee increase was because the student success fee itself is not going to increase costs to students, but overall the new fees that were created in addition to that fee do increase the cost to students.
 
“There was some confusion calling the student success fee budget-neutral and not increasing cost to students,” Trevino said. “While that may be true, there’s more to the story, and the other part of the story is that there were $87 in other fees [per academic year] that were also proposed.”
 
The approved fee increases will generate about $3.87 million.
 
“The goal is to analyze and reduce certain existing mandatory fees, with any reductions going toward the student success fee,” Cook said.
 
University President R. Bowen Loftin intends to establish a “working group” to address the new fee, Cook said.
 
The exact funding structure of the new fee has not been determined at this point. Loftin indicated to the board that he is looking at a two-year process to generate funds. A 10 percent reduction to current mandatory fees the first year would generate $14 million, while a 15 percent reduction the second year would generate $22 million.
 
“That fee allows some flexibility, and it allows for the University to go through all of our existing fees and find areas where we have extra money,” Trevino said. “By creating the ‘success fee’ they are able to make it more ‘liquid’ … in order to do things that obviously would enhance our educational experience at A&M.”
 
During his presentation of the Tuition and Fee Advisory Committee, which is made up of students and faculty, Loftin expressed a need to increase designated tuition to afford merit raises for faculty and staff, who have been without raises for more than two years.
 
Cook said the student success fee will not fund faculty merit raises. He indicated the funding will come from internal prioritizations in each department and interest earned on University assets. 
 
In a memo to University faculty and staff, Loftin said there would be merit funding for the upcoming fiscal year for both faculty and staff. 
 
“Our budgets are complex and burdened already, and funds available are often highly constrained on how they can be used. We will have to postpone some plans and reduce the scope of some efforts, all of which are important, but we are committed to identifying the funds for a merit-based compensation program,” the memo said.
 
In the memo Loftin said the pool for merit compensation, from “every unit on campus,” will total about 3 percent of the total value of salaries and wages. Loftin expressed concern due to the fact that some faculty members have decided to leave the University, and thanked those who are remaining.
 
“Our budgets have been cut, our value to the public has been questioned, and our morale has been tested. And yet, in spite of these challenges, people of exceptional quality have opted to come and join our ranks,” the memo said.
 
Student Body President John Claybrook said it’s hard to discern whether the new fee is purposeful when it isn’t known exactly what the money is going toward.
 
“Obviously we are excited to see tuition staying the same. It’s important for A&M to continue to offer one of the best-valued educations in the country,” Claybrook said.
 
He said it is important to offer faculty incentives, especially if the University is going to meet its goals.
 
“With faculty, it’s kind of a give-and-take relationship; we haven’t increased anything in three years, and I think that faculty retention and recruitment is extremely important, and if we are going to meet our Vision 2020 goals we’re going to have to have faculty to get us there,” Claybrook said.

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