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.




Which Public Universities Send the Most Grads to Ivies for Postgrad Work?

Based on an analysis of National Science Foundation research grants for 2011 and 2012, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas at Austin lead public universities in the number of students who go on to study science, engineering, and social sciences at Ivy schools and other prestigious private graduate programs.

In a previous post, “Public Universities that Ivy Leaguers Choose for Grad School,” we discussed the leading public choices for Ivy students awarded NSF grants. This post looks at the reverse phenomenon: public university students who received NSF grants to do research at elite private universities.

About 29% of the graduates of public universities who receive NSF grants go on to prestigious private schools for grad work. This is almost exactly the same percentage of Ivy grads who opt for public research universities for their graduate work.

Please bear in mind that many more students from public universities attend elite private schools, even in science and engineering fields, but do so without NSF grants.

UC Berkeley stands out either way you view the analysis: far more grads of elite private schools choose Berkeley for graduate work than they do any other public institution, and Berkeley sends a much higher number of its grads on to the elite private schools for research than do other public universities.

The private universities included are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Chicago, Penn, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern.

Below is a list of the leading public universities who send the most graduates with NSF grants to study at elite private institutions:

UC Berkeley

Harvard (12), Princeton (1), Columbia (4), Stanford (16), MIT (18), Caltech (5), Cornell (6), Brown (1), Duke (4), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (3)


Harvard (4), Princeton (2), Stanford (2), MIT (6), Caltech (2), Chicago (2), Brown (1), Duke (2), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (3)

UT Austin

Harvard (1), Princeton (2), Columbia (1), Stanford (7), MIT (7), Caltech (2), Chicago (1), Cornell (1), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

Washington (tie with Wisconsin)

Harvard (5), Yale (2), Columbia (1), Stanford (2), MIT (4), Penn (1), Cornell (1), Duke (2), Northwestern (1)

Wisconsin (tie with Washington)

Harvard (4), Princeton (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (1), MIT (4), Caltech (1), Penn (1), Brown (1), Duke (2), Johns Hopkins (2), Northwestern (1)

Arizona (tied with Illinois)

Harvard (2), Yale (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (7), MIT (1), Caltech (1), Cornell (2), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

Illinois (tied with Arizona)

Yale (2), Columbia (1), Stanford (2), MIT (6), Caltech (2), Chicago (1), Cornell (1), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

UC San Diego

Harvard (3), Yale (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (4), MIT (3), Caltech (1), Cornell (1), Northwestern (1)

Maryland (tied with UCLA)

Harvard (1), Stanford (1), MIT (2), Caltech (1), Penn (1), Cornell (1), Duke (4), Johns Hopkins (2), Northwestern (1)

UCLA (tied with Maryland)

Harvard (1), Princeton (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (4), MIT (1), Caltech (2), Penn (1), Duke (1), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (1)


Harvard (2), Yale (1), Princeton (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (3), Chicago (1), Penn (1), Duke (1), Johns Hopkins (1)

Georgia Tech

Columbia (1), Stanford (4), MIT (4), Cornell (2)

The following universities are tied, at 10 each:


Columbia (1), Stanford (1) MIT (2), Chicago (1), Penn (1), Duke (1), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (2)


Harvard (1), Yale (1), MIT (1), Caltech (3), Cornell (2), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

Ohio State

Harvard (1), Yale (1), MIT (3), Cornell (2), Duke (1), Northwestern (2)

The following universities each had four or more NSF recipients who attended one of the private institutions listed above:

UC Santa Barbara (9)
Arizona State (9)
Rutgers (9)
UC Davis (8)
Penn State (7)
Pitt (7)
Clemson (6)
NC State (6)
Stony Brook (6)
Alabama (5)
North Carolina (5)
UC Irvine (5)
Georgia (4)
Indiana (4)
Massachusetts (4)
South Carolina (4)
Texas A&M (4)

Goldwater Awards for 2012 Announced!

The 2012 Goldwater Scholarships for undergraduates to do research in science, technology, engineering, and math have been announced, and students from all but six of the 50 universities under review have won at least one award, with Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, and North Carolina State leading the way with four awards each.

Universities among the fifty that have three Goldwater winners are Alabama, Massachusetts at Amherst, Minnesota, Ohio State, Oregon, Pitt, South Carolina, and UT Austin.

Winning two awards are Clemson, Colorado, Florida, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers, Penn State, Washington, Washington State, and Wisconsin.

Although the awards just announced will not be a part of the statistics for the current edition of A REVIEW OF FIFTY PUBLIC UNIVERSITY HONORS PROGRAMS, they will be included in the next, expanded issue.