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Students will pay a little more at the University of Houston next year.

Law students will pay much more. Regents this morning approved a 16.5 percent increase for students at the law school.

Law school Dean Ray Nimmer defended the increase — originally proposed as a 20 percent hike but whittled down before today’s board meeting — as a necessity.

“Legal education has just skyrocketed in cost around the country,” he said. “We’ve held our own even though we haven’t done any large tuition increases. But with state budget cuts and with the demands of being able to run a really good law school, we just have to do it.”

Undergraduate tuition at UH will rise by 3.95 percent. It will go up at other UH system schools, as well:

• UH-Downtown, 5.1 percent.

• UH-Clear Lake, 4.5 percent.

• UH-Victoria, 3.8 percent.

Regent Nandita Berry cast the only “no” vote.

“I personally cannot ask students to pay more in today’s economy,” she said. “It’s a tough decision.”

Berry said the university should cut its budget instead, although she declined to suggest where the cuts should be made. That is an administrative decision, she said.

In fact, UH and all other public universities in the state just completed plans to trim 5 percent of state funding from their current budget. Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders asked for the plans, although they haven’t yet ordered them to be enacted.

UH Provost John Antel said tuition increases over the past 20 years have generally offset a drop in the level of state funding. In 1990, he said, state money covered 54 percent of the university’s operating budget. This year, it’s 32 percent.

“We realize we have to become more self-supporting,” he said.

The tuition increases were approved by a board committee last week, sparking a vocal protest from state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. He wrote UH Chancellor Renu Khator, calling the law school increases “unconscionable.”

There was little discussion of the proposal today.

Overall, graduate tuition at UH will go up 7.7 percent. It will climb 9.6 percent at UH-Clear Lake, 5.5 percent at UH-Downtown and 3.9 percent at UH-Victoria.

The law school increase generated the most talk.

Incoming students next fall will actually pay 26.5 percent more; current students will see their tuition go up 12 percent.

“We have to hold that back,” Antel said. “They came here with an expectation for what they would pay.”

Nimmer defended the increase as necessary to continue the law school’s climb in the national rankings. He said tuition at UH is currently about 35 percent less than that at the University of Texas at Austin’s law school, and about half that at the law schools at Baylor University and Southern Methodist University.

“Obviously, nobody wants to pay more,” he said of student reaction.

But Erin Ferris, a third-year law student, said students understand the need to pay more.

“The overwhelming response from the student body is, we need to preserve the rankings and get better,” she said.