UT Dallas McDermott Scholars: An Exciting Free Ride for Four Years

Editor’s Note: The following post is from UT Dallas…

The UT Dallas McDermott Scholars Program has selected 21 students to make up the 2013 incoming class.

The entering cohort was chosen from nearly 1,200 high school students in 30 states and five countries who had initially expressed interest in the program. Fifty-eight applicants were invited to the annual selection weekend, from which the final 21 students were chosen.

The incoming class of 2013 will include eight students from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Ten others are from out of state, and one is from Romania. Collectively, this group has an average two-part SAT score of 1520. Eighteen of the 21 have received recognition from the National Merit Scholar program, five were high school valedictorians, and two were Presidential Scholar nominees.

“UT Dallas and the McDermott Scholars Program have again proved their ability to attract some of the nation’s best and brightest students,” said Molly Seeligson, director of the McDermott Program. “I am so pleased that our institution and program will have the opportunity to benefit from the contributions of these remarkable young people while we help them to realize their potential.”

As McDermott Scholars, the students will have educational expenses covered for the next four years and will participate in a wide variety of cultural and educational enrichment experiences in the Dallas area and beyond.

The McDermott Scholars Program is carefully designed to incorporate various aspects of experiential learning:

Freshman year includes an orientation trip to Santa Fe, N.M., weekly leadership development seminars and a trip to Washington, D.C., for an immersion in government operations.

During their sophomore year, scholars take leading roles on campus, and experience state and local government during a trip to the Capitol in Austin.

Junior year is focused on study abroad and/or internships.

Senior year centers on final preparations for the next phase of scholars’ lives and includes traditions such as a class retreat, capstone service projects and the passing of the McDermott Scholars Program torch in the “Lighting the Legacy” ceremony.

The arrival of this year’s class will mark the program’s 13th class. The incoming group will join the 62 scholars already in attendance at UT Dallas. The program has 142 alumni.

The McDermott Scholars Program was made possible by a $32 million gift from Margaret McDermott, wife of the late Eugene McDermott, one of the co-founders of Texas Instruments (TI). McDermott and two TI co-founders, Cecil Green and Erik Jonsson, founded the research institution that in 1969 became UT Dallas.

For more information on the McDermott Scholars Program or the application process, visit the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program website.

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Risk or Predictability: UT System Fixed Tuition Proposal Is No Guarantee

Despite the failure of fixed tuition plans in Georgia and Michigan, and the dubious results of similar efforts in Illinois, the University of Texas System Board of Regents is following the wishes of Gov. Rick Perry and ordering all UT System campuses to come up with proposals to set four-year fixed tuition rates for future entering freshmen.

Perry has been pushing a variety of alleged reforms in Texas, most of them in line with recommendations from groups that have an ideological agenda that is a threat to excellence in public universities.  For the last year and a half, Perry and his followers on the System board, along with right-wing “think tanks,” such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, have been attacking UT Austin and its president, Bill Powers.

Because of this antagonistic relationship and the poor record of fixed tuition plans in other states, UT system schools should view the latest demand with considerable skepticism.  For one thing, when a university sets fixed tuition for four years for a given entering class, the institution has no way of knowing how much (or, more likely, how little) state funding will be allocated for the same period.  So what happens is that schools set modest fixed rates and run the risk of low-balling expenses or they set higher rates to hedge against cuts in state funding.

For this reason, it is typical for the initial implementation of fixed rates to yield somewhat higher tuition increases than would otherwise have been set.  Moreover, the subsequent entering classes are still subject to higher tuition rates than the class before it.

At the University of Illinois, where fixed tuition was implemented with the support of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2003, “fixed” tuition rose 9.5 percent for the class of 2010, over the previous class, and then rose another 4.8 percent for the class of 2011.  How much of this increase was needed to offset the fixed rates for previous classes is anybody’s guess.  And four-year graduation rates have not substantially improved, according to university officials.

In Georgia and Michigan, state universities had to forgo their fixed tuition plans because the volatility of state funding and the complexity of budget forecasting made the process to complex to sustain.   University officials emphasized that stable, continuing state funding support was necessary to successful implementation, but the financial crisis led to sharp cuts.

One motive for the UT System plan, aside from providing politicians with what appear to be nice talking points, could be a desire to make UT Austin more vulnerable to state decision-makers and micro-management, since the fixed plans will likely restrict institutional autonomy.

Perry and his supporters point to the UT Dallas as the exemplar of the fixed tuition approach.  While it is true that the four-year graduation rate for UT Dallas has increased from 46 to 51 percent since the implementation of the plan in 2007, it is also true that UT Dallas has the highest tuition of any public university in the state–14 percent higher than UT Austin and 31 percent higher than Texas A&M.

Supporters of fixed tuition say that UT Dallas has so many business and science majors that their costs are necessarily higher.  A review of the variable tuition rates at UT Austin confirms that students majoring in business pay about 6 percent more tuition than the average tuition at the school; engineering majors pay about 4.8 percent more.  Aside from nursing, these are the most expensive majors.

According to U.S. News, the most popular major at UT Dallas is, indeed, business, with 32 percent of students enrolled.  But at Texas A&M, 18 percent of students major in business, and another 14 percent in engineering.   Since there appears to be relatively little difference in the cost of educating business and engineering majors, both UT Dallas and Texas A&M have the same proportion of students in high-cost majors; yet average tuition at UT Dallas is much higher.

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, who frequently follows Perry’s lead on university “reform,” is also advocating fixed tuition in Florida.  Ohio University is also looking at fixed tuition options.  Yet amid all the change in higher ed these days, no option is without risk, even (or especially) when the goal is predictability.