Increasing tuition affects schools across nation

Dan Haugen and

Annual tuition increases have some University regents questioning how much is too much.

But at the same time, they acknowledge rising higher education cost is a trend plaguing universities across the nation.

Over the past decade, University tuition has gone up 83.3 percent.

“When do we get to the point where you can’t afford to go to the University?” Regent William Hogan said. “At what point do we break this bank?”

The Board of Regents Educational Planning and Policy Committee addressed trends in tuition and financial aid in a meeting Thursday.

The University falls in line with other Big Ten universities in rising costs. University of Wisconsin tuition has gone up 86.9 percent over the last decade, and University of Iowa tuition has risen 70 percent.

“The situation is pretty clear Ö the increases we have are in the mainstream,” said Regent Jean Keffeler.

Some regents expressed concern for students who come from low-income families, questioning whether the students are aware of the availability of institutional grants.

“I hate for the University to be closed off to students with lesser means,” said Regent Maureen Reed. “We do have money available for these students.”

Twin Cities student representative Jacob Elo said income level alone should not be the only concern. He said the board should address the many students who come from middle- to upper-class families but have to pay for college themselves.

A report released last week by the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found tuition increases at two- and four-year colleges and universities have made higher education less affordable for most American families than it was two decades ago.

The report, titled “Losing Ground,” compares tuition rates, average family income levels, government appropriations and financial aid between 1980 and 2000.

“These reports are a dime a dozen these days,” said Peter Zetterberg, the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting director. “I don’t think there is anything new in this one. It’s incomplete and alarmist.”

Zetterberg said the National Center’s report fails to account for institutional aid given to students by schools in the form of grants and scholarships. He also disputed its finding that students and families are borrowing more than ever to pay for college.

“The federal government opened up its loan programs in 1994 to students without need. Prior to that, people were just borrowing from other sources,” Zetterberg said. The National Center’s report only measures government loans and grants.

Zetterberg also said some of the trends the study pointed out don’t necessarily apply to Minnesota, a claim also backed up by the report.

Minnesota was one of five states that earned an “A” in the National Center’s “Measuring Up 2000” report. The state fared more favorably than most in “Losing Ground” as well.

According to the report, Minnesota was one of seven states in which the median four-person family income kept pace with tuition rates at four-year public institutions during the 1990s. Median family income increased 25 percent, from $58,234 to $72,561. Average tuition went up 24 percent, from $2,873 to $3,561.

The University’s tuition increase was higher than the state average for four-year public institutions in the last decade. Median undergraduate tuition, including student services and University fees, increased 64 percent, from $2,832 to $4,649.

U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Babyak would not directly comment on the “Losing Ground” report. Instead, she referenced a May 2 education department statement, which promotes President George W. Bush’s proposed higher education budget.

Bush’s proposal, as announced last Thursday by Education Secretary Rod Paige, would increase the number of students receiving grants by one million.

“It’s deeply troubling to me,” Paige said, “that after a year of strong bipartisan support for education – including the largest increases ever for our K-12 schools and our colleges and universities – some are resorting to petty politics to mislead the American people about this administration’s support for our college students and their families.”

Established in 1998, the National Center is a nonprofit organization not affiliated with any government agency, political party, college or university. Its board of directors includes school administrators, corporate executives and former political officeholders.

Dan Haugen welcomes comments at [email protected] Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]