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University of Texas at Austin faces projected deficit; proposes $230 increase in student fees

The University of Texas at Austin must raise $150.7 million in new annual recurring funding over the next five years to offset projected budget deficits rooted in declining state financial support, President Larry R. Faulkner said.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin must raise $150.7 million in new annual recurring funding over the next five years to offset projected budget deficits rooted in declining state financial support, President Larry R. Faulkner said.

Faulkner has recommended an initial $230-per-student-per-semester infrastructure fee to pay for building repair and renovations, and financial aid. University of Texas System Board of Regents will consider the proposal at the February board meeting.

“The university is at an important juncture in its life,” Faulkner said. “We have critical choices to make. Declining state financial support and fees raised from existing sources will no longer support maintenance or enhancement of the university and its mission.”

There has been a steady decline in the purchasing power of general revenue support from the state over the past several years. In fiscal year 1985, state appropriations accounted for 44 percent of the university’s operating budget. Since that time, increases in state support have fallen short of increases in consumer prices. By fiscal year 2000, state appropriations had dropped to less than 24 percent of the $648 million core operating budget. Assuming the past is a reflection of the future, current sources of revenue will not support the funding necessary to maintain the current programs at the university, Faulkner said.

The university is near completion of a seven-year, $1 billion fund-raising campaign to enhance academic excellence and ensure its position as a national leader in teaching, research and service. These dollars will enhance the university’s fundamental building blocks by increasing faculty endowments, adding student scholarships and fellowships, creating and supporting innovative research and programs, and providing state-of-the-art facilities for faculty and students.

However, the capital campaign funds are overwhelmingly restricted gifts — designated for specific purposes by the donors themselves and not available to address the university’s maintenance needs, salaries or other areas of its mission. To date, the campaign has raised $950 million. Of this total, only $1.6 million are unrestricted funds.

A substantial portion of the university’s buildings and other facilities, constructed during the 1950s through 1980s, now require significant repair and renovation, Faulkner said. The essential new recurring funding is expected to reach $150.7 million by 2006-07.

The proposed infrastructure fee would raise $21.4 million in the first year. The fee would be charged for fall and spring semesters only, and applies to all students beginning in fiscal year 2002-2003. The fee, slated for $230 per semester for seven or more hours and $115 per semester for one to six hours, would increase annually by $50 per semester. The increased student fees would account for only one-third of the total projected budget deficit.

As universities across the country increase tuition and fees to place more of their financial burden on students, The University of Texas at Austin is not out of line, said Cheryl Fields of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges in the Jan. 11 edition of the Austin American-Statesman.

"In Texas, because it’s been such a low-tuition state, when they are resorting to fees to make up for lost ground, it doesn’t surprise me they would be higher," Fields said.

The total yearly cost (tuition, housing, etc.) to attend The University of Texas at Austin is $13,374. This compares to $15,666 at the University of Oklahoma, $18,727 at Florida State University, $15,692 at the University of Michigan and $36,650 at New York University.

Other steps Faulkner has proposed to increase revenues include seeking additional state support from the legislature to keep pace with increases in consumer prices and full recovery of the university’s indirect costs. The university administration will continue to address other possible funding sources.

If the university does not obtain substantial additional funding, significant structural changes would have to take place campus-wide, Faulkner said. These include operating under a continuing deficit, being nationally non-competitive on salaries, reducing services and programs, allowing buildings to deteriorate, canceling or deferring essential building and safety projects and contracting programs.

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