‘Black hole’ University needs a new plan

by Kimberly Jackson

uite a pickle University students are in, isn’t it? First we have a hefty tuition increase. Then we hear news the administration is considering a 13-credit minimum course load to improve low five-year graduation rates. Unemployment is up, morale is down and, for what it’s worth, we might end up not even having a baseball team to take our minds off things.

If all of this weren’t enough, state politicians are skeptical about giving public funds to the University – described as a tax-dollar “black hole” – because they don’t see how the money is being used to benefit the community. In fact, the University has recently been labeled as apathetic and self-serving.

Here’s the message we students are being given: Buck up and take those silver spoons out of your mouths. Take more classes, get another job, pay more in tuition, and while you’re at it, think about someone else for a change.

This image and message are unfair. An overwhelming percentage of University students have part-time or full-time jobs and pay for college themselves. But if it looks like a greedy, indifferent duck and it quacks like a greedy, indifferent duck Ö well, it will take a lot to shed that misconception.

How about this as a solution? We show our legislators a plan that will increase our contribution to the Twin Cities area. The University can offer courses that require volunteerism in the community. In turn, for a one-time, three-credit satisfactory course completion, the state will subsidize the University for the cost of those credits, giving students a full refund – which could certainly increase their ability to graduate in five years or less.

Through this quality volunteer experience, students will not only be providing a direct benefit to the community, but will also be learning to develop and embrace integration and compassion.

Breaking it down into numbers, here’s how University students can benefit financially from this plan. In 2001, in-state tuition rates were $179.70 for 1 to 12 credits; $89.85 for over 12 credits. Let’s say a resident student were to take 15 credits, three of which are the proposed free-tuition volunteer credits. This student would only have to pay $2,156.40 per semester for tuition, as opposed to our current situation where the same amount of credits would cost $2,425.95.

Consider another example: Say a student were to take only 12 credits (nine regular credits and three free-tuition volunteer credits); they would save $539.10 by taking advantage of the Legislature-funded subsidy. If a student were paid $6.50 per hour, this would mean the student has to work 83 less hours per semester.

In addition, if the credits could count toward a theme fulfillment and a major or minor fulfillment (a total of nine credits), the total savings would be $1,617.30 for full-price credits and $808.65 for over 12 credits. However, to earn this tuition break, the volunteer work must demonstrably benefit the community. Yes, this does mean the student is going to have to care about what they are doing. This is a substantial amount of money we would be receiving from the Legislature; it won’t just be thrown around to those who haven’t earned it.

The reasoning here is to offer an incentive for students to get as involved as possible and thereby inevitably absorb the benefits of volunteering, thus strengthening our community. The aim will be to encourage involvement – not just in the credited semester, but to establish a habit of civic engagement throughout students’ lives.

But in a time of tight money and budget cuts, why would the state Legislature want to give this alleged vacuum of a University more money? Because, according to many, this would be the first time we would prove we aren’t just a “vacuum” of public funds. This would be money well invested, that will show an immediate and direct benefit to the taxpayers who have financially supported us.

Whatever sort of work the students do – whether it is leading a YMCA program, teaching English to Hmong immigrants or working at a homeless shelter – the community will be exposed to University leadership and empathy, while students will be exposed to diversity and a new obligation to civic engagement. The legislators will finally get what they have been asking for.

Also, the long-term benefits of this plan are invaluable. If students begin to graduate in less time – which could be largely helped by this proposal – our national ratings will increase. This innovative tuition reimbursement plan will draw benevolent reviews and interested, motivated students. This will, in turn, increase the amount of applicants, attract more first-rate professors and ultimately help carry the University to a new level.

Even though this plan is only now a mere skeleton and an excited flurry of ideas, there are people working on solidifying and strengthening this idea. Born in an honors seminar concentrating on American ideals and civic engagement, this idea is gaining momentum quickly. MSA president Dan Kelly said he thinks this proposal could make a real difference, and has already spoken to University President Mark Yudof regarding it.

I urge the Student Legislative Coalition and the Civic Engagement Task Force to begin research in order to present this plan to the Legislature as early as next summer. This is an incredible opportunity for the University, the students and the state as a whole. We have nothing to lose but the rising price of tuition and a negative image.


Kimberly Jackson is a Daily senior copy editor. She welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]