The Vermont House approved a provision on Wednesday that will allow the University of Vermont to lower out-of-state tuition rates for graduate school courses and create flat rates for online graduate school courses.

Since 1959, the state has required the university to charge Vermont students no more than 40 percent of the out-of-state tuition rate for graduate level courses.

The change in statute, if it is approved by the Senate and signed into law by the governor, will allow the university to lower out-of-state tuition for graduate level courses, without also having to discount class prices for in-state students.

Undergraduate students would still pay 40 percent of the cost of out-of-state tuition, under the new legislation. The UVM College of Medicine has an exemption from the 40 percent rule.

Rep. Michele Kupersmith, D-S. Burlington, says she is worried that the change in policy will hurt Vermont students who are already weighed down by debt and who need access to low-cost graduate courses - on campus and online.

"I'm OK with giving the university the ability to be nimble and strategic," Kupersmith said. "I just want to know (the impact in future). I also want to limit the change."

Rep. Johanna Donovan, D-Burlington, defended UVM's proposal. She said Kupersmith's proposal would put a damper on academic freedom and "dictate to our university what they must do."

Cindy Forehand, dean of the Graduate College at UVM, says the university's out-of-state rates are too high, and they need to reduce those rates in order to attract more graduate and online students.