It wasn't without some pride that I saw last week that my alma mater, the University of Texas at Dallas, had earned what may be its first superlative. (OK, maybe its second, but the most-hideous-architecture label was unofficial.) The Texas Tribune has helpfully compiled a list of average tuition and fees at the state's public universities, and look who's on top by a solid 14 percent over the UT system's so-called flagship in Austin? For reference, that's like the Mavs ending the season with a 11.5-game lead over the Spurs. Go Comets! Whoosh!
Looking a bit further down the list, I noticed that a couple of other local universities, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas, are well above the statewide average of $7,166 per year and are each more expensive than Texas A&M. (Insert Aggie joke here).
So why are our local institutions -- Texas Women's University and fledgling University of North Texas -- Dallas excluded -- so much more expensive than the rest of the state? Short answer: They chose to be.
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Back in 2003, the state legislature, in its infinite wisdom, transferred responsibility for setting tuition from elected lawmakers to the boards of the schools, which are appointed. The unsurprising result has been that the cost of college has skyrocketed.
Still, the numbers are striking. According to a March report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, average total cost of attending a Texas university just about doubled between fall 2003 and fall 2011. When you look at the "designated tuition," the slice of that cost determined by the university, the numbers are ever more staggering. At UTD, that number increased by 305 percent during the eight-year period. This even as, over the past five years, the state's support for higher education has actually seen a modest increase, though not enough to keep pace with increased enrollment.
The bad news is there is no ceiling so long as schools meet "acceptable performance criteria" in areas such as graduation and retention rates, enrollment growth and educational quality.
The good news is, you can still go to school on the cheap Texas A&M-Texarkana.
Nice town. The Golden Corral there is fantastic.