Tuition hikes will be minimal

The outlook for the economy isn’t looking so great these days, and graduating students are starting to look for jobs in a meager job market. What advice do you have to these students as they prepare to leave the University?

I’m really hopeful that they do not graduate into a weak job market.

I think the most important thing that students can do is to find, if the jobs are a little tight, try to find some opportunities to intern and develop their résumés.

I also strongly advise young people to follow their passions, follow their interests and try to find something that really interests them. They’re more likely to be successful that way, than if they simply take the first job that’s out there out of desperation.

The other thing is get your faculty mentors, get people who know you well to give you strong recommendations to open doors for you.

We know tuition won’t be finalized until later in the spring, but how are students going to feel the tuition increase next year?

Well, I think one of the things I would say is that the tuition increase for this two-year period will be probably the lowest tuition increase we’ve had in the last 10 years – thanks to a strong level of support from the state Legislature.

We are working very hard to find other ways to support students, and so the level of support through scholarships and other forms of financial aid is the highest it has ever been in the history of the University of Minnesota, and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to bring down the cost of education through providing financial support.

I expect to take to the Board of Regents a recommendation to increase the tuition rate by around 7.5 percent Ö with a provision to buy down the tuition for middle-income families with incomes up to $150,000 a year, so if you look at it from that point of view, most students will see an increase of 5.5 percent or below.

There’s been some discussion that the Legislature might reduce the University’s budget because of the shortfall in the state’s economy.

I’m hoping that that doesn’t happen, and we can stick to our plan.

With the University’s ongoing “Promise of Tomorrow” scholarship drive, is the goal for students to receive larger scholarships or for more students to receive financial gifts?

Both. What we’re trying to do is to raise the level of scholarship support for students very substantially and this “Promise of Tomorrow” scholarship drive has increased annual giving, annual gifts for scholarships by 700 to 1,000 percent a year.

So the goal in the future is to raise more money so that more students can have scholarship and that we can also increase the level that is the amount of money that we give to each student. And then the last several years, about three and a half years, we’ve doubled the number of students on scholarship and we have raised the level of each award and that’s the goal going forward. I want to do everything we can to restrain the growth in tuition costs for our students, and to find ways to reduce these costs through scholarships and other forms of financial assistance.

Twenty percent of the University’s endowment of nearly $3 billion is now dedicated to scholarships, and I hope that we can increase that proportion and increase that amount of money very substantially in the near future.

In addition to tuition increases, students have been facing hikes in mandatory student fees in the past few years. What is the University doing to ensure that affordable college education is available to Minnesota’s students?

We’re working very hard to keep the cost down by reducing the cost of operating the University, increasing the level of state and private support. It takes more than one strategy to address these issues.

I would suggest to students, one of the best ways to lower the cost of education is to graduate on time – we estimate that you can save $20,000 to $25,000 over the course of their education if you graduate in four years rather than five years.

And then I think it’s up to the University and to individuals and families to work together to make sure that we keep higher education accessible and affordable. We have made financial support for students the highest possible priority of the University of Minnesota since I’ve been president, and it shows.

I believe that one of the most important things a society can do is to keep education accessible and affordable, so we need to do everything possible to make sure young people today have the same opportunities I had roughly 40 years ago, when I attended universities.

But our state needs to do much more.

When we get state support, we can keep tuition down. So I would urge young people to get really engaged in this political campaign, ask the question of the candidates as to whether they support higher education, don’t let them off the hook.

And, I still think that despite these cost increases, that investing in a college education and a degree or multiple degrees is the best single thing a young person can do to ensure a much brighter future and develop the skills you need to really truly make a long-term contribution to our society.

As the number of admissions rise, the University is becoming harder and harder to get into. What’s the University looking to do to combat that and make this a school for Minnesota students?

We’re doing a lot of things to keep the University of Minnesota highly accessible to people from all economic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds. We expect Ö at least 20 percent of the freshman class to be students of color this year, which is again an increase over previous years.

We have initiated a very aggressive program in cooperation with the public schools to help students, particularly those in low-income communities throughout Minnesota to get better prepared to apply to the University of Minnesota.

We estimate the Founders (Free Tuition) scholarship will reach 12 percent of the students attending the University of Minnesota.

I take as a point of great pride that the University of Minnesota, a public research and land-grant University, has a set of strategies that are designed to help young people get better prepared for college, and once they get here, a set of strategies that are really designed to lift up and support low-income students and students from very diverse cultural backgrounds.

I think, in total, we’re doing really substantial things to help students get prepared to develop multiple pathways to the University of Minnesota and to support our students once they get there. Is it perfect? The answer is no, there’s still much more to do.

Last Friday, you sent a University-wide e-mail to students in response to the shootings at Northern Illinois University. As the leader of a university, why was it important for you to send this message to students?

I find this random, unexcused violence is deeply disturbing to students, faculty and staff in our colleges and universities across the United States.

I know people who work at Northern Illinois, I know people who were on the faculty and the administration of Virginia Tech, and this kind of random violence can happen anywhere.

I wanted to assure members of our academic community that we were deeply supportive of the Illinois state community, but that we were also deeply committed to the safety and welfare to the people who comprise the communities of the University of Minnesota campuses.

I wanted at least to send a note out to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that occurred Ö but also to indicate that we need as a community to work together to make sure this does not happen here.