Why is The University of Texas at Dallas the State’s Most Expensive Public University?

So the Texas Tribune on Friday published one of those public-data pieces that they do so well. This one presented a sortable list of the the average annual cost of tution and fees at public universities in Texas. When you sort the list to the find the most expensive, you discover it’s the University of Texas at Dallas.

UTD’s average annual cost ends up at $11,168. That’s 14% higher than No. 2 on the list, UT-Austin. Then there’s UT-Arlington, which is fourth-most expensive, ahead of larger schools like Texas Tech and Texas A&M.  But why does the Dallas/Richardson branch of the University of Texas system come out on top?

I called the school’s communications department to ask and am waiting for a call back, which I was assured will be coming. In the meanwhile, I’m going to guess that with a somewhat smaller student population disproportionately enrolled in science and engineering courses (for which the school is best known and which are generally more expensive, due to extra fees, than humanities courses), UTD’s averages get tilted up higher than the other schools.  But that’s just a guess, for now.

(Aside: All of these figures seem dirt cheap to me, even many years after I finished college.  I attended a private university in Texas, though my school’s generous endowment allowed me to to attend at far less than the retail sticker price.)

Will report back when I get that call.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for UT-Dallas says my guess-planation was “pretty much dead on.”

UPDATE UPDATE: I got some more specifics from UT-Dallas. Out of almost 19,000 students, more than 50 percent of them are science/tech/engineering majors. Another 30 percent are business majors.

Jump to read her more detailed response:

There’s price and then there’s value.

With regard to price, UT Dallas’ tuition position among Texas public universities is partly a result of the programs offered: mostly science, technology, engineering, math and business. Also with regard to price, please be aware that approximately 16,000 of our students will pay less than the tuition listed on the TT website, because they are continuing students and enjoy Fixed Tuition for four years.  Only students enrolling this fall pay the amount shown on the website, and their tuition and required fees also will be fixed for four years. And UTD offers the “Comet Connection” program that allows any student enrolling in a Texas 2-year college to lock in tuition at the price in force when the student declares his or her intention to transfer to UT Dallas, which can significantly moderate the cost of an education.

With regard to value, UT Dallas has been listed among on Kiplinger’s “100 Best Values” in public universities year over year. It is priced very competitively among its peer private institutions. While the price of an education at UT Dallas has, like the average entering SAT scores of our freshmen classes, been consistently higher than most Texas public universities’, this has not discouraged growth.  In fact, our enrollment has grown 27 percent in the past six years, and our enrollment growth last year (10 percent) was the highest in the state. We enrolled more National Merit scholars than any other Texas public university last year (53).    More than 88 percent of our 2011 graduates report that they are employed or continuing their education. We believe UT Dallas offers a great return on investment, and strive to assure that it continues to do so.


  • Jean Val Jean

    Bull $#!t

    You know who also focus mostly on Engineering? Texas A&M-Kingsville.
    1300+ out of 6000+ total students are enrolled in that department.

    And it costs almost $6,000/year LESS than UT-Dallas.

    Sorry, the explanation doesn’t fly.

  • Jean Val Jean

    That should have been almost $5,000/year less, not $6,000/year.

    My editor has been fired.

  • Grant Browne

    As a student at UT Dallas, I believe that the tuition is very economical. Most of my peers are on academic scholarships that significantly reduce or eliminate the cost of tuition. Furthermore, the guaranteed tuition program sets my tuition at the same cost for all four years – no percentage increases like most schools.

    As to the differences between Kingsville and UT Dallas, I would look at the linked data and note the differences in the student body composition: http://collegeprowler.com/compare/default.aspx?schools=Texas%20A%26M%20University%20-%20Kingsville%2CUniversity%20of%20Texas%20-%20Dallas&tab=tab-admissions

  • UTD Alum

    That’s because, for those who don’t both to research – it’s one of the best public universities in the state, even region. Those people who are so proud of their UT Austin ‘Longhorn’ education always seem shocked to hear that entrance qualifications at UTD are much more stringent than at other public universities in Texas. And boy – you should really see the proud SMU Mustang’s shocked face to hear that. It’s almost too funny thinking about it.

    Do the research. The school is worth it.

  • Jean Val Jean

    How in the world does student body composition explain the difference in cost ? (and I have done the research: my wife is a UTD Alumnus).

    It’s just flat out more expensive. Unnecessarily, I believe.

  • Whoosh

    “How in the world does student body composition explain the difference in cost ?”

    It doesn’t, but what does is better facilities, better faculty, et cetera. Just because you have a large enrollment of engineering students at Kingsville doesn’t mean the school is spending the same amount of money on those students. When a school is performing at a higher level, it requires higher costs – as I previously mentioned. It’s not reasonable to believe that just because Kingsville has engineering it can be compared to that of UT Dallas. Also, from my experience, Kingsville does not equal Dallas. More expensive land, more expensive cost of living, et cetera. You get what you pay for, in this situation that applies to both educational value and area of living.

  • @Jean Val Jean: Because we’re talking about averages.

    Hypothetical: Imagine that two schools charged exactly the same tuition and fees for humanities courses and for more-expensive science/engineering courses. (Those courses are more expensive due to additional lab fees usually involved). Imagine one of those schools has 30,000 students, 50 percent of whom are in the humanities. Now imagine the other schools has 15,000 students, 70 percent of whom are in science/engineering courses.

    I shouldn’t have to tell you that the smaller school with more science/engineering students is going to end up with the higher average tuition and fees.

  • Grant Browne

    Jason is correct. I do think it has a lot to do with the composition of the student body, though. If you have a college composed of liberal arts majors and a college composed of engineering students, I believe you would be able to see a distinctive difference in the expenses per student.

    In addition, as “Whoosh” said, UT Dallas simply spends more on faculty, facility construction, etc.

    You may not agree that the expenses are justified, but they are spending money and you can see it over campus in the new ATEC building, parking garages and residence hall. In addition, they keep recruiting new faculty to serve the University’s ever increasing student population.

  • Luke


  • Stephanie

    The tuition is high because the school is run like a business. The school “buys” high achieving students, national merit scholars and students with the highest SAT/ACT scores by giving them free tuition for four years. In turn the school gets recognition for the high caliber of the student body. In essence, the average student pays higher tuition in order to pay for their higher achieving colleagues to attend for free. Good, bad or indifferent- business is business.

  • Really

    @ Faculty. i think what we have at UTD is cheap labor picked up from west Europe and Asia. Whole bunch of PHDs who demand more and deliver less. ouch…. i know it hurts:)

    @ FREE tution: why should most students be burdened with free education of few ???