With rising costs and dwindling state funding, Texas A&M System schools are increasing tuition, an inevitable step that is also frustrating. Prairie View A&M was first up for the day's public hearings.
"I have to continue stressing to them that an education will enable them to make a significant difference on society," said Prairie View A&M President George Wright, who was the first to offer up a school's proposal Thursday.
For Prairie View, the tuition raise would be between $12.50 and $17 per credit hour, this for a school with 90 percent of students on financial aid, and a third coming from families at or below the poverty line, according to Wright.
The student body president said approval of the tuition increase was warranted, but still hurt.
"If a student is to graduate from college with a large sum of loans, how is it that he enjoys the fruit of his labor of going to a four-year institution, when for the first five-to-10 years after he graduates, all he has to do is work to pay off the loans," said Olu Olasanya.
New A&M student regent Tyson Voelkel offered up an idea to all institutions. "You need to consider putting students on a committee such as what Texas A&M has done with TPAC," he said. TPAC is Texas A&M's Tuition Policy Advisory Council.
It was TPAC that recommended a 10 percent designated tuition increase for A&M, one which students were largely accepting of in a public hearing held last month. President Robert Gates asked the Regents to do what they could to restore state funding, including to the Texas Grant Scholarship program.
"Three years ago or so, Texas A&M was able to offer 1,800 of these scholarships to incoming freshman," Gates said. "Last year, we offered 100."
Regent Lupe Fraga said, "We've got to educate students, and if it requires tuition raises, I think we ought to do it. But I think we should be careful that we don't force a lot of students that cannot afford it."
Though the tuition increase is the lowest in three years at Texas A&M, it is an increase nonetheless. It's also coupled with new fees, including one to counter rising energy costs. But Gates further mentioned Texas A&M's high rankings in a pair of national magazines, Kiplinger's and US News, which rate A&M as one of the best education values in America.
A vote on all school's tuition proposals are due Friday.
President Gates also said he is continuing to look at the Mays Business School's proposal for differential tuition.
Mays is the first school to take advantage of that new possibility, which would allow schools to have different tuition based on the needs of that school.
"A lot of universities use it," said Regent Earl Nye, who also said he's keeping an open mind about the concept. "I think Dr. Gates has been very thoughtful about how to use tuition appropriately."
TPAC has given approval for differential tuition for the Mays School. Both Gates and the regents would have to sign off on it for it to be enacted.
As mentioned, Texas A&M's new student regent took the stage Thursday. Voelkel took his place among the board this morning. He was appointed by governor Rick Perry as A&M's representative. The graduate student is one of 10 across the state.
In addition to his school work, Voelkel now has this on his plate, but it's a responsibility he's happy to have.
"The learning curve is short," Voelkel said. "Unlike other regents, I've got one year to make an impact and a difference, so don't be surprised if I'm asking a lot of questions and prodding in a lot of different areas."
Voelkel has all the responsibilities of a regent, except for the ability to vote, or to count when determining a quorum.