A general view of the University of Texas tower in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
University of Texas President Bill Powers said Saturday he supports a push by Gov. Rick Perry to develop degrees costing $10,000 but finds it unlikely the school could ever offer such plans to all students while maintaining its core mission of improving technology and research.
Powers' endorsement for cheaper degree plans comes as a lengthy clash between him and the Perry-appointed UT System Board of Regents has intensified in recent months. Some regents have disagreed with Powers on issues such as tuition and the roles of research and teaching at universities.
"We need a $10,000 degree at the University of Texas," Powers told reporters at the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors convention. "We certainly want ... students who can't afford more than that to have the availability."
However, Powers emphasized that while the university is looking for ways to offer cheaper education, the school remains a technology and research institution. He said the costs of having students live on campus and pursue certain technology-related degrees prevent the school from offering cheaper plans to all its students.
"Not every degree ought to be a $10,000 degree, and not every degree ought to be a UT Austin or Rice (degree)," he said. "There ought to be a lot of different pathways."
Perry has made college affordability a top priority in his latest term as governor, pushing for Texas universities to rein in costs, offer bachelor degree programs costing $10,000 and expand enrollment and online offerings. Last fall, Perry said nine institutions in Texas offer or have announced plans to develop $10,000 degrees in certain fields.
Powers did not elaborate on the kinds of degrees the university could offer within that price range but called it "critically important" to develop cheaper options for students.
He said he remains focused on his job despite what one lawmaker has called a "witch hunt" by some regents to force him from the post he has held since 2006.
Powers has publicly criticized the board on various issues, including its decision last year to freeze tuition for most students at the 52,000-student flagship campus in Austin.
He was believed to have only a slim majority of support among the nine regents -- all Perry appointees -- but has had the backing of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus. The legislative leaders in February formed a special committee to investigate the regents. Then last month, the Senate Committee on Higher Education held an initial hearing on a bill that would roll back some regents' voting authority.
Powers said he appreciated the lawmakers' efforts but would not elaborate on his interactions with the board.
"I try not to be a source of friction," Powers said. "I'm going to go back on Monday and make the university a better university."