North Texas Daily

Smatresk supports Abbott tuition goal

Smatresk supports Abbott tuition goal

May 19
16:32 2015

Dalton LaFerney / News Editor

When Gov. Greg Abbott visited UNT, he not only addressed graduates at the mass commencement, but joined university administrators and student body leaders for a dinner to discuss the higher education priorities of both UNT and the state.

The meeting came at a time when UNT is restructuring its administration and physical campus to meet its educational aspirations. UNT President Neal Smatresk said in an interview what came of the gathering is what he and other university leaders had hoped for: an open dialogue and the start of a relationship with a new governor.

“His enthusiasm for higher education is greater than any other governor,” Smatresk said. “This was a wonderful meeting. [Abbott] really engaged with our dialogue.”

SGA president-elect Adam Alattry said the dinner went well. He and SGA president Kam Willard, who spoke during the commencement ceremony, were introduced to Abbott by Smatresk. Alattry said they presented the governor with Mean Green attire and spoke briefly.

Smatresk said the governor expressed interest in razing the financial barriers non-Texas students endure when they seek admission into Texas universities. Now, according to the UNT website, non-resident tuition is $440 per credit hour. That’s compared to $50 per credit hour for Texas residents and $100 per credit hour for Oklahoma residents.

As Smatresk put it, “we should just have tuition” so all students, no matter their residence to other states, can pay an equal rate as Texans. The focus of the move, as Smatresk explained, would be to encourage students from around the world to attend Texas universities without the added costs of out-of-state tuition.

While no official changes from neither the legislature nor UNT have come to fruition, the university has made adjustments to ease the burdens that come with out-of-state tuition. Earlier in the spring, administrators unveiled UNT’s Oklahoma undergraduate tuition rate, which reduces the costs for residents of that state from $10,282.70 to $5,602.70 for 15 credit hours, the average course load.

As the 84th Texas Legislature draws to a close in the coming weeks, lawmakers will decide what to do with the state’s budget. Within the budget debate, the rising cost of tuition is among the top priorities for budget writers.

“Abbott told us that he wants the legislators to understand that higher education is an investment,” Smatresk said, instead of as a routine, budgetary concern.

In 2003, lawmakers deregulated tuition pricing, transferring that power to university boards of regents. College costs continue to rise. Universities are implementing payment plans — like UNT’s Eagle Express Tuition — to combat tuition prices by offering flat rates for tuition over four years.

A measure, Texas House Bill 233 by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), was left in committee, but would have again regulated tuition costs, giving pricing power back to lawmakers.

Higher education costs continue to be hot-button issues for lawmakers across the United States. As Republicans and Democrats begin a presidential election and grapple over middle-class votes, Texas educators and lawmakers are exploring the future of tuition costs — costs Schwertner said are increasingly unaffordable for middle-class families.

Abbott, in his keynote address to the graduates, abstained from policy endorsements, instead sharing personal testimony. But in his opening remarks, Abbott said “Texas is fortunate to have [Smatresk] at the helm of UNT as the university begins its next 125 years.”

As for Abbott’s enthusiasm and intentions on higher education, Smatresk said the governor can expect cooperation from UNT.

“I offered my support for this endeavor,” Smatresk said.

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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