AUSTIN, Texas - Gov. Rick Perry said college students in Texas should be able to lock in four-year tuition rates when they arrive on campus, and lawmakers could consider the idea when they return to the Capitol in January.
The proposal is Perry's latest push against rising higher education costs, which has sometimes caused friction between the governor and administrators and faculty at some of the state's largest campuses. Perry has also championed $10,000 bachelor's degrees and called for greater efficiencies at state universities to improve graduation rates.
Speaking Friday at a three-day public policy forum in Austin, Perry didn't give many specifics about "freezing" tuition but seemed intent on pursuing it.
"If you get out of the University of Texas with a $50,000 debt, I don't know if we've served you well," Perry told an audience of about 500 state leaders, lawmakers, officials and lobbyists. "We'll tell an incoming freshman, this is what the university will charge you for four years."
The Austin American-Statesman reported that initial reaction to Perry's idea appeared supportive.
Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall, a former member of the Texas House, said it was the first time he'd heard Perry call for a four-year freeze for incoming freshmen. McCall said he hadn't considered a freeze before but added, "We are now."
Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, said a four-year freeze was discussed in 2009. She said freezing tuition for four years could be an incentive for students to finish their degrees on time, a problem that campuses are increasingly confronting.
"We're going to carefully consider it again, certainly," Zaffirini said.
Gary Susswein, a spokesman for UT-Austin, told the newspaper that the university could not comment until it had time to review Perry's proposal. But he said university officials are "on board" with increasing four-year graduation rates.
In May, University of Texas regents froze tuition for two years under pressure from Perry. That came after UT-Austin had asked to raise tuition for resident undergraduates by 2.6 percent. Much of the nearly $26 million it hoped to raise was to be used for improving academic advising and adding courses to help more students graduate in four years.
Undergraduate resident students at the Austin campus pay $4,896 per semester. By 2013, nonresident students will see their tuition jump from $16,190 per semester to $17,377.