By CLAIRE CARDONA Austin Bureau Published: 01 May 2013 10:25 PM
AUSTIN — Universities may soon be able to offer their students a set four-year tuition rate, taking some of the guesswork out of paying for a degree.
The House tentatively approved Rep. Dan Branch’s bill to require universities to offer fixed tuition rates. Branch, R-Dallas, said the measure will give parents and students “a tool to provide price certainty when planning for college.”
It’s also an incentive for students to graduate in four years, aligning with Gov. Rick Perry’s push to improve graduation rates and make college more affordable.
“If we were to return to increased inflation, this will be really helpful to students and families,” said Branch, whose bill drew no debate and was approved on a voice vote. “People now will have a choice to say ‘I want to lock in for certainty,’ and someone else can say ‘I’ll take my chances on the year at a time.’”
The University of Texas at Dallas, which offers only fixed-rate tuition, would be exempt from providing a nonfixed plan.
In a committee discussion on the bill, Diana Natalicio, president of UT-El Paso, said fixed-rate tuition hasn’t been popular at her campus, receiving a “lukewarm at best” welcome from students.
Tuition at UTEP is already low, Natalicio said, and students attending the school are considered at-risk, live paycheck to paycheck and may have other financial obligations that make planning four years ahead difficult.
Administrators would be required to tell students that a fixed rate is available and present the cost alongside the regular tuition price. Universities would be able to set the fixed rate at a level to offset the cost of not raising rates annually. After four years, the prices could go up for students who have not yet graduated.
Branch said his bill is not a silver bullet to solve the graduation rates issue. Statewide graduation rates hover around 30 percent after four years and 59 percent after six years.
Branch has offered several other bills to improve graduation times, including one that would base about a quarter of a university’s state funding on graduation rates.