One thing that contributes to the problem of growing student debt is that before students arrive on campus, they don’t always have a way of accurately estimating what their college costs over the four years will be like. As year-to-year tuition increases have become pretty much standard in almost all U.S. colleges and universities, schools attempt to make up shortfalls created by falling government funding. Now, at least one elected official is talking about changing the practice and allowing students to “lock in” the tuition they agree to when they make the commitment to begin classes their freshman year.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is asking lawmakers to consider the lock-in proposal for all Texas public colleges and universities during the legislative session slated to begin in January 2013. Although he didn’t provide many details when he unveiled the policy during the Texas Tribune Festival held in Austin over three days last week, it was clear from his speech that he hopes the legislators will pursue it.
“If you get out of the University of Texas with a $50,000 debt, I don’t know if we’ve served you well,” Perry told an audience of about 500 state leaders, lawmakers, officials and lobbyists. “We’ll tell an incoming freshman, ‘This is what the university will charge you for four years.'”
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, initial reactions have been positive — even from those who could be expected to oppose the policy such as Texas State University Systems Chancellor Brian McCall. McCall, who was formerly a member of the Texas House of Representatives, said that this was the first time he’d ever heard Perry talk about his idea of a tuition freeze. Either way, he said that university leaders will definitely be considering this approach to reducing the tuition burden carried by the students.
Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who chairs the influential Senate Higher Education Committee, said a four-year freeze was discussed in 2009 but not enacted.
She said freezing tuition for four years could be an incentive for students to finish their degrees on time, which is a problem that campuses are increasingly confronting.
“We’re going to carefully consider it again, certainly,” Zaffirini said.
When asked about the plan, the spokesman for the University of Texas at Austin said that he wouldn’t be commenting until Perry’s proposal could be more thoroughly reviewed by school leaders. UT has played a peculiar role in the saga of rising tuition at Texas state schools, as it was denied permission to raise tuition by 2.6% last year.