No freeze, but looming tuition hike

Christopher Aadland

After a failed bid to freeze costs for in-state students, tuition at the University of Minnesota will rise next year under President Eric Kaler’s recently released budget proposal.
Tuition would increase between 1.5 and 7 percent this fall. The proposed rise comes after University advocates failed to convince state legislators to give the school the $65 million officials said they would need to add a third and fourth year to the tuition freeze and expand the measure to cover graduate and professional students.
If the Board of Regents approves Kaler’s plan later this week, resident undergraduate tuition would increase by 1.5 percent — or about $180 — next fall, while nonresident undergraduate tuition would jump by 7 percent on the Twin Cities campus. In-state graduate and professional students would see an average increase of 2.5 percent.
“We were hopeful of getting the amount of money that would allow us to keep tuition flat,” said Board Chair Richard Beeson. “Because the funding is less than we had hoped for, we’re in a position where we’re recommending a modest increase for in-state tuition.”
Throughout this year’s legislative session, Kaler repeatedly said tuition would be increased unless the state Legislature awarded the University the full amount it requested for tuition relief.
Lawmakers eventually agreed last month to give the University about $22 million to help freeze tuition.
Given the multi-billion-dollar budget surplus state lawmakers had to work with, Minnesota Student Association President Joelle Stangler said the Legislature should have been able to supply the University with enough funds to freeze tuition again — an opinion other University advocates frequently shared with legislators this session.
But Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said any tuition hike at the University shouldn’t be blamed on lawmakers. 
“[I] don’t think it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to own a tuition increase,” she said. “We provide as much state investment as we can, and then it’s up to the University to decide how to allocate their resources.”

The tuition hike isn’t as steep as previously thought. In earlier budget plans, the University said it would increase undergraduate tuition by 3 percent and graduate and professional rates by 3.5 percent.
Nonresident undergraduates currently pay $19,310 a year for tuition, which is the lowest rate in the Big Ten, according to a University press release. Increased tuition for out-of-state students would move the University closer to the middle of the Big Ten, according to a statement from Kaler.
While Stangler said Kaler’s proposed tuition increases may seem reasonable at first glance, they’re difficult to meet for many students at the University, adding that a $180 increase from an “already unmanageable” tuition level isn’t something to be taken lightly.
But Beeson said a large portion of the University’s undergraduates won’t see their tuition increase.
Tuition increases for low- and middle-income students will mostly be offset by a combination of need-based government aid and boosted University merit-based awards, Kaler said in a statement Friday.
The president’s budget also includes increases in student fees and room and board rates across all campuses in the University system. On the Twin Cities campus, fees and room and board costs together are slated to leap an average of about 3 percent.
Regents will review and hear public comments about Kaler’s proposed budget on Thursday and Friday.