U tuition hike plan unveiled to regents

K.C. Howard

University President Mark Yudof announced a preliminary plan Friday to increase tuition 16 percent and phase in a 13-credit minimum next fall.

Yudof discussed the tuition hike and the implementation of a 13-credit minimum last week with the Board of Regents, which is slated to approve both measures in the coming months.

“There is no free lunch here,” Yudof said. “You always look for real cuts in terms of fat, but most of the time when you cut something it has some significance to students, faculty or staff, or programming.”

Last June, the regents planned for a 13.6 percent tuition increase for the 2002-03 year. But they didn’t count on a $2.3 billion state deficit, a $23.5 million reduction in the University’s state funding and $9 million of added institutional expenses that paid for additional security measures, increased liability insurance and the restoration of central reserves.

“Without less appropriations from the state, we wouldn’t have to raise tuition like this,” Yudof said.

The faculty members’ pockets did not go unscathed either. Last spring, regents approved a 6 percent merit-based pay increase for faculty but reduced that to 4 percent, saving the institution $6 million.

Students will bear about one-third of the Legislature’s cut, with administrative cuts and reduced investments carrying the rest.

To cushion the blow to students’ wallets and inspire them to pick up heavier course loads, Yudof said every credit after 13 will be free.

“Students will have a lot of control over their tuition level,” Yudof said. “I think this will encourage students to graduate on time.”

The more credits students take, the lower their tuition will go under Yudof’s plan. For example, those taking 16 credits will only be subjected to a 10 percent tuition increase,
he said.

Regents and University officials have discussed a 13-credit-minimum policy’s effects for months, but the plan has received poor reviews from many students.

“The only reason the University is setting this policy is to look good,” said Trevre Andrews, a Minnesota Student Association representative. “To push kids harder than they should be pushed is maybe stepping a bit over what the University should be doing.”

With 51 percent of University students graduating in six years or more, University officials hope the credit minimum will improve the University’s standing. The University currently ranks last in graduation rates among U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 institutions.

“It is in your best interest and the best interest of the institution to graduate in four years,” Yudof said.

The 13-credit minimum will be grandfathered in over three years, starting with incoming freshmen this fall. Students will be able to take fewer than 13 credits with an approved exemption from an adviser.

Some regents worried requiring students to take more courses might leave some stranded as classes become less accessible.

“This also puts a burden on us, the institution, in terms of offering more courses and making sure they’re available,” Regent William Hogan said.

College of Liberal Arts Dean Steve Rosenstone said the average freshman takes approximately 14 credits. Because the 13-credit minimum only affects freshmen next year, he said, he did not anticipate an increased demand for classes right away.

“If students move through the University faster, and we do not admit more students than usual, then the total head count drops,” Rosenstone said.

But three years from now – when every student will be expected to take 13 credits – the dean said, the University will probably need more faculty to handle the demand and keep faculty/student ratios at present levels.

“I can’t tell you we have all the resources available in CLA to do it,” he said. “I’m trying the best to use the resources that I do have to respond.”