Much like the story of the Roman Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome burned, the UT administration is standing idly by while the cost of tuition continues to skyrocket. Instead of offering a plan of their own, they’re choosing to “fiddle” away with rhetoric designed only to protect the status quo.

Their latest attack against those seeking to reform our state’s higher education system comes in a newly created and UT operated website called A Response to the Seven “Breakthrough Solutions” and Other Proposals for Higher Education. The website details a report written by UT College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl and his associates, specifically attacking Jeff Sandefer’s “Seven Breakthrough Solutions”. The report claims that his ideas and those similar to them cannot “yield the levels of excellence or efficiency [they] already reach or serve students effectively.”

But instead of offering a legitimate counter-proposal, Diehl and his associates rest on their laurels by pointing to the university’s efforts to adopt the recommendations of the “Commission of 125”, a model that so far has done nothing to lower tuition costs or improve the quality of education at UT over the course of the recommendation’s existence.

Since 2004 when the plan was submitted to then UT president Larry Faulkner, tuition at The University of Texas at Austin has increased 40%, from $3,500/semester to $4,897/semester! That’s over twice the rate of US inflation over the same time. My own tuition over the course of my career at UT has increased by 15%, from $4,677/semester in the fall of 2008 to $5,369/semester in the fall of 2011, triple the rate of inflation over the same time.

So it’s the Legislature’s fault for not appropriating more money, right? Wrong.
Adjusted for inflation, the state budget has steadily appropriated approximately $6,000 per student to statewide universities from 1970 to 2007, yet over the same time the average operating cost per student spiked from $10,655 in 1991 to $17,506 in 2007 (a 64.1% increase).

Where is all this added cost coming from?

Part of it is the out-of-control salary increases for faculty and administration. In 1999, the statewide average professor salary was $70,864. In 2009, the average was $106,311 (a 50% increase). The highest professor salary at UT-Austin was $140,542 in 1999 — 10 years later it grew 172.5% to $382,948.

An Associated Press study also found that the budget for administration at UT-Austin alone rose from $5.9 million to $8.2 million (a 40% increase) from 2004 to 2008.

And what does UT have to show for all this added spending? They’ve moved up just one spot in the US News and World Report Rankings of the best colleges, from #46 in 2004 to tied for #45 in 2011.

This all comes in light of recent reports that student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt in America.

How much more of this can we take before college is seen as more of a hindrance than a catalyst for one’s long-term financial success?

Clearly, we cannot afford anything less than true reform to the system. The status quo is leading us to insurmountable debt with little to show for it, all while faculty and administrators stand by and “fiddle” away with rhetoric when they should be grabbing a bucket.

Dustin Matocha is the Social Media Coordinator for Empower Texans / Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.

He is also a senior at The University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Management and Government.

Connect with Dustin on Twitter.

Dustin Matocha

Dustin Matocha is the CFO and COO of Texas Scorecard. Dustin graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BBA in Management, a BA in Government, and a minor in Marketing. He’s a self-described Corvette enthusiast, baseball purist, tech geek and growing connoisseur of local craft beer.