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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
Best photos of June '24
Published June 23, 2024

U spending not in line with student priorities

Only 35 percent of students surveyed say the University handles its spending well.

Correction: The “University spending” graphic that ran with this story incorrectly labeled the “preferred University priority” and the “perceived University priority.” The color labels should have been switched.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:

This is part one of a two-part series that looks at student opinions of university spending. Part two will run next Wednesday.

In this survey, we examine the attitudes and experiences of University of Minnesota students when it comes to how the University sets and spends tuition. Other topics covered in this survey include student finances, perceptions of University priorities, perceived value and satisfaction with University services and other offerings. This survey was conducted from April 29 to May 1, 2008. 726 students responded to the survey for a response rate of 18.6%. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 3.6%, reported as 4% for simplicity. a majority of students at the University think the school is trying to be a top-three institution at the expense of its students .

The 61 percent in that opinion poll is just one sign that students have different spending priorities in mind than those they perceive the University to have, according to The Minnesota Daily’s University Spending Survey conducted during April and May.

In terms of overall spending priorities, just 35 percent of students said the school does a good job of spending on things students think are most important.

The main spending priority at the University should focus on fostering quality undergraduate education, according to the survey results.

That answer, however, did not fall into the top three responses of what students perceive the University’s spending priorities to be.

Minnesota Student Association President Mark Nagel said he agrees with the consensus that undergraduate education needs more spending attention.

That improvement, however, does not have to come at the expense of other projects, he said.

“You don’t have to necessarily separate the different priorities,” he said, citing the combination of research and undergraduate education through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.

Biomedical engineering senior Erica Delin hasn’t participated in UROP, but has worked and volunteered in University labs for three and a half years, she said.

Although she said it’s important to have research opportunities available for students, especially in majors like biomedical engineering, there have been signs that spending might be needed in other areas.

Professors can be too focused on research and ignore classroom duties and there are some equipment problems in some labs, she said.

“In my biomechanics lab the equipment never worked,” Delin said. “We needed new equipment but none of the money went to us, it all went to graduate students [for research].”

However, University Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster said the school’s focus on undergraduate education is a top priority.

Evidence for that focus includes the new honors program, revised advising services and a recently approved new science classrooms building, he said.

McMaster also cited a 2007 senior exit survey in which 88 percent of respondents said they would definitely or probably choose the University again for their undergraduate educations.

Some critics don’t realize that strategic positioning initiatives and research goals can ultimately make undergraduate degrees from the University worth more, as the school is more highly regarded, he said.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter also said he doesn’t think the University is spending too much on research, and that it’s tough to compare its financing efforts to those with a mission of improving undergraduate education.

“A lot of (research) is self-funded through grants so it’s not like ‘Gee, we’re spending too much on research or focus is too much on research let’s shift the spending,’ because you can’t,” he said.

Pfutzenreuter also said some criticism in the survey results can stem from misunderstandings and students’ lack of knowledge regarding the school’s finances, which he’s experienced firsthand many times.

“I feel like when I sit down face to face with students and walk them through what we spend money on, it’s helpful,” he said.

State Rep. Alice Hausman , DFL-St. Paul , said she sometimes disagrees with how the University spends its money, noting when she saw the school pushed harder for an on-campus stadium than it did for biomedical research facilities.

Recent talks about plans for UMore Park have also raised red flags, she said.

“To use this time to invest in some sort of cutting-edge conjecture about where residential communities might go strikes me as a stretch for a university,” Hausman said, pointing out current economic and businesses struggles as other reasons to be wary.

On the Web:

For additional information about the survey, including a description of the survey methodology and data reporting, go to our survey research site.

She plans to meet with other state legislators on the topic this week, she said.

Check next week’s Daily to see how the students surveyed rated the quality of their education in camparison to how much tuition they pay.

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