Regents approve $243 million operating budget for UTPA
Posted: 08/20/2009
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The University of Texas-Pan American's fiscal year 2010 operating budget of more than $243 million was approved today by The University of Texas System Board of Regents and will go into effect Sept. 1.

The institution's fiscal year 2010 budget will direct resources to the most essential needs of UTPA, which includes investing in new academic programs, retaining faculty and staff, and enhancing services provided to students and the community.

"Higher education fared much better than most of us expected going into the (legislative) session," UTPA Interim President Charles A. Sorber said. "We were committed to balancing the budget without any negative impact on our core activities of teaching, research and service. The way you do that is to plan to not spend more than the expected revenues can support."

The budget specifically directs resources to new programs in civil engineering, environmental sciences and a Ph.D. in rehabilitation counseling. Funding will also be directed toward salary merit increases to retain faculty and staff.

"The quality of education is remarkable here at UTPA, and being ranked 32nd among America's top 100 public colleges by Forbes magazine really shows the quality here," said Raghuveer Puttagunta, UTPA Student Government Association president. "UTPA is a leader in the higher education sector in retaining and recruiting faculty that truly care for the students."

UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale noted that the University's core mission support through this budget is critical not only for the University, but for the region as we continue to expand access to high quality instruction and research. These two things ultimately provide a great return on investment to the Rio Grande Valley.

"UTPA is committed to doing our part in meeting the critical shortages in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and allied health fields. We will continue to seek strong fiscal support for these areas," said Sale.

The new budget will also focus on increasing outreach to students and the community. Funds were allocated to a new facility in south McAllen - the UTPA McAllen Teaching site - which opens in late August to expand and facilitate instructional services, especially in graduate education. The UTPA Transfer Center - a community college transfer office in McAllen, which provides assistance with admission and academic counseling, as well as financial aid and scholarship information, will also be supported with budget resources.

"The University is a regional entity and we serve that region in all ways we can. We have learned in some cases we have to take our product to the people because some people can't get to us - we've done that in Starr County and now we are doing it in McAllen," Sorber said.

Undergraduate designated tuition rates will increase from $87.70 to $90 a semester credit hour (SCH) and graduate designated tuition rates will increase from $87.70 to $101.70 per SCH beginning fall 2009. Despite these changes, designated tuition rates at UTPA will continue to be among the lowest in the state. The designated tuition fee will remain capped at 14 SCHs to encourage students to enroll in more than 14 hours.

"The 14-hour cap gives students an opportunity to pay less tuition when enrolling in more courses. Designated tuition is waived on all hours beyond 14, which provides an inducement to enroll in more hours each semester," said Dennis McMillan, associate vice president for Enrollment and Student Services. "Students who take advantage of this will be on track to graduate on time."

As a result of this year's budget, UTPA will also see more financial assistance available for students. An estimated $4.2 million of designated tuition will be set aside for student aid, an increase of more than $800,000 from last year. Other increases include an additional $9 million for federal Pell Grants, an additional $2.3 million for TEXAS Grants, and estimated incentive funding of $2.1 million which is provided to all institutions and is based on graduation rates, and emphasis on STEM fields and at-risk students' outcomes.

"Since so many of our students come from low socioeconomic areas, an increase in aid will alleviate some of the problems associated with attending or completing a college degree," Puttagunta said. "This will help so many students finish their degrees and graduate within the standard four-year timeline."

Another initiative supported by the budget allocations this year is the Veterans Services Center, which will certify veterans to receive veterans' benefits and coordinate services such as admissions, advisement, registration, tutoring and counseling. The center is located on the second floor of the University Center on the UTPA campus in Edinburg. Funds will also be directed to create a separate Scholarship Office at the University to provide information about scholarship opportunities and assistance with the application process, as well as coordinate the awarding of scholarships to eligible students.

"Having a separate scholarship office will be helpful to students because they will be able to go directly to the source to receive information about scholarships," said UTPA's Executive Director of Student Financial Services Elaine Rivera.