Education
11:36 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Texas Public Colleges Freeze Tuition -- What Does That Mean For Students And Families?

This year, Texas became the second state in the nation offering fixed-rate tuition for students attending state colleges or universities. That means a freshman’s tuition won’t rise for four years. And that's something students applaud.

The goal behind last year’s House Bill 29 was to help cash-strapped families and students better manage college costs -- and graduate on time. It sure helped Sarah Aleisa, a freshman biology student from Houston who attends the University of Texas at Dallas.

“When you look at rates in comparison to SMU or other private schools, it’s not locked in," she said. "To just know a set amount is going to be the same every year -- it made it easier to distribute out the funds and make sure we had enough.” 

An incentive to graduate

Aleisa likes eliminating potential "tuition shock" down the road. But the price freeze only lasts four years.

“It’s an incentive to pass, so you don’t have to take courses again and end up taking another semester and tuition being raised,” she said. 

Before last year, locked-in tuition was an option at UT-El Paso, but mandated at UT-Dallas.  

“We tell them what it’s going to cost. They can plan for that cost but there are no surprises," says David Daniel, UTD’s president. He brought the fixed-rate tuition from his last job at the University of Illinois, the country’s only other state school system that freezes tuition.

“When we put this in, one thing struck me: How sad it would be if a student got halfway through their college education and there was a major increase in tuition and they found themselves unable to afford college because of that tuition increase,” Daniel says.

Fixed-rate tuition stabilizes funding, leader says

Daniel says the fixed rate tuition has helped UTD’s graduation rate, even though his school's tuition is the highest of all the state’s universities, including UT-Austin.

“Our four-year graduation rate has risen from 32 percent when I came in 2005 to about 50 percent now," he said. "I expect it to continue to rise.” 

That tuition freeze even affects scholarship students like Amanda Bosson, who wants to be a software engineer. Why would the Lewisville sophomore worry about tuition even with a scholarship? Because she changed plans, and switched majors.

“I’m going to graduate a semester beyond my original graduation date," Bosson said. "I won’t have my scholarship that last semester. But because of that, I can still pay the tuition that I would have paid if I’d been paying since I came in, which is good.” 

Daniel says fixed-rate tuition also helps schools because it stabilizes funding.

“And in the world of academe, where you’re hiring teachers year in and year out, the steadiness was a real advantage," he said.

Daniel expects skeptical school leaders will conclude the tuition freeze offers more advantages than disadvantages -- especially after they get some experience with it.