Regents discuss tuition increases

by Ahnalese Rushmann

With 10 days left in the state legislative session, many at the University are wondering: Will it be 7.5 percent or 9.5 percent?

The Board of Regents discussed tuition hike scenarios for 2008-09 on Thursday at its Finance and Operations Committee meeting.

Combined with student fees, tuition is expected to increase just less than 7.5 percent for resident undergraduates next year.

Students from a family with an income of $150,000 or less would pay $10,435 next year, $700 more than last year.

Students from families with an income topping $150,000 would pay $10,659.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter also noted other tuition increases for next year – 9.5 percent for Law School, 3.4 percent for Medical School and 7.5 percent for graduate school.

Last year, University resident undergraduate tuition was lower than the University of Michigan’s, but higher than peer schools like Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin.

At $24,995, average debt for University graduates is higher than at any other public school in the Big Ten Conference, according to Kiplinger, a finance and business forecasting firm.

Regents Vice Chairman Clyde Allen said he thought the 7.5 percent has been portrayed to the public without proper context.

Taking the inflation rate and state funding into consideration, tuition hasn’t risen that much, he said.

In state hands Ö for now

While it’s known that tuition will rise 7.5 percent next year, the possibility of taking on another 2 percent looms, if Gov. Tim Pawlenty gets his way.

To fix the state deficit, Pawlenty proposed slashing $27 million in University funding, which would raise tuition by 9.5 percent. Legislators have been haggling to lower the cut to $10 million.

“We can’t settle the (University) budget until the state settles its business,” Pfutzenreuter said.

University officials have maintained that a larger tuition hike would be a last resort, mentioning budget cuts and investment cuts as other options.

Currently, a Higher Education bill provision says the Board must not increase tuition or fees beyond the previously planned amount, or 7.5 percent. But legally, they aren’t allowed to mandate the University’s tuition policies.

“I think they’re sincere intentions,” said Pfutzenreuter, who has two sons at the University. “But that said; the president has an obligation to make sure that the quality continues, that our momentum continues.”

If the state doesn’t balance the budget before May 19, the governor could unallot – meaning Pawlenty would have authority to determine the final funding cut.

Fees, fees, fees

Next year’s operating budget also includes a new student capital enhancement fee on the Twin Cities campus – intended to help fund recreational facility projects.

Freshmen in 2008-09 would pay $25 for the year, with freshmen and sophomores paying $50 the following year.

By 2011, all students would pay $200.

A West Bank recreation center and recreational sports field updates are some of the projects that would benefit from the fee.

Some regents expressed apprehension and requested administrators further investigate the plan for the June meeting.

The fee is essentially just like adding to tuition, Regent John Frobenius said.

University President Bob Bruininks will speak on the yearly operating budget at today’s Board of Regents meeting.