DALLAS — Room and meal plan rates are set to rise in the fall at the University of North Texas, the first of four years of rate increases approved Thursday by the UNT system Board of Regents.
Standard room rates will increase 8 percent next fall and premium room rates will increase by 2 percent. Five-day meal plans will increase 5.2 percent and seven-day plans will increase 2.1 percent under the rates approved by the regents.
The regents met Thursday in Dallas but there was no public discussion of the budget shortfalls and ongoing audit at UNT that were unveiled Wednesday by Chancellor Lee Jackson. The board met behind closed doors for a lengthy executive session that spanned three hours but no action was taken when they emerged.
Approval of the new room and meal rates will help bring UNT more in line with its peer universities, although the university still remains below the average even after the increases, according to Elizabeth With, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.
With told the regents that UNT now charges 24 percent less for on-campus housing than its peer universities.
“As we have presented to you all several times, the housing and dining rates have lagged very far behind,” With said. “In fact, they are almost at the bottom of almost all of our peer groups and our hope is to move closer to the average as we move forward.”
For fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018, the standard room rates will increase by 7 percent each year. Premium room rates will increase by 2 percent in 2016 and then 3 percent in 2017 and 2018.
The increases will help to enhance the current residence halls, many of which are older buildings in need of renovations such as roofs and air conditioning systems. It will also help build up reserves for additional improvements and help fund the construction of the new dormitory, V. Lane Rawlins Hall.
“We’ve not had the ability to go in and create dynamic, efficient facilities,” With said. “We do a student questionnaire every year. … Housing in that particular survey falls into the worst quadrant, and prospective students think housing is very important but we don’t compare well.”
Meal plan rate increases during fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018 were not specified in the board action, but the increases can’t exceed an average of 4 percent each year. If there is additional inflation or food prices increase by a greater percentage than expected, the department could request additional increases.
Although regents didn’t discuss the budget shortfall, both Jackson and UNT President Neal Smatresk hinted at the issues at the beginning of the meeting.
Jackson said Wednesday that budgetary inaccuracies at UNT led to revenue shortfalls for the current fiscal year, and that the matter is now being investigated by outside auditors and has been reported to the State Auditor’s Office. Last week, three top finance officials resigned on the same day, all citing personal reasons.
During a presentation on his top priorities for UNT this year, Smatresk included a slide titled “improve fiscal planning and management,” which included hiring a vice president for finance and administration, hiring a chief budget officer and improving budget stability, management and strategic planning.
“At the moment, I am looking for a VP for finance and administration and a chief budget officer,” Smatresk said. “Anyone who knows some highly qualified, incredibly great people, please have them apply — my e-mail is Neal.Smatresk@unt.edu.”
Jackson had the same priority in his presentation for system-wide goals this year, and said he hopes to improve the data and accounting structures.
“We’ll improve everything that we do,” Jackson said. “That means that the presidents will be able to rely on the numbers in the budget. We’ll have better comparisons of budget to actual performance. So it is one of the central missions for the system this year across all these projects.”
While officials Thursday still could not provide an estimate for the budgeting shortfall, Regent Glen Whitley said an internal report on the matter is expected by the board by its next meeting, scheduled for March 20.
“I know that we’re looking into everything at this point in time, and really at this point, we don’t have anything to say, except for the fact that Michelle [Finley, chief internal auditor for UNT system] and her folks are looking into all of the issues, and will hopefully have a report back to us by our next meeting,” he said.
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.