University ups 2003-04 tuition by 15 percent

University President Robert Bruininks confirmed Thursday that tuition will increase approximately 15 percent next year.

Last week, University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said tuition increases would be in the 15 percent range.

It will be the third year in a row that University students have experienced double-digit tuition increases aimed at addressing budget shortfalls. In 2001, University tuition increased 13.8 percent. A 16 percent increase followed in 2002.

With the increase set for 2003, Bruininks said a tuition hike in 2004 is uncertain, but will hopefully be lower than 15 percent.

“I think it’s very likely that we will have back-to-back, double-digit increases,” he said.

Bruininks said the increase is within Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recommended 15 percent tuition cap. But Bruininks warned that if the University’s state funding reduction grows beyond Pawlenty’s $185 million recommendation, tuition could increase even more.

Bruininks’ comments followed a Board of Regents work session in which he presented guidelines for addressing future University funding reductions from the state.

The guidelines, such as focusing on the University’s academic priorities and keeping University employees’ salaries competitive while recruiting new workers, also include improving student satisfaction by increasing financial aid and scholarships and eliminating redundancies between departments.

While regents said they support the guidelines, some said Bruininks’ proposal lacked specific information.

Regent Frank Berman said regents need more detailed, concrete information.

“(We need to know) are these goals realistic, are they not realistic? If they aren’t, which goals prevail over the others?” he said.

Regent Anthony Baraga said he was disappointed the board failed to discuss the University’s long-term financial goals when the institution was more financially sound.

He added that the board needs to keep the University’s long-term goals in mind when drafting polices or making decisions.

“This isn’t a two-year or three-year or four-year problem Ö . I really think we really need a long-range hold on this,” he said.

In other regent news

University initiatives created to improve first-year students’ experiences are increasing retention rates, officials said at a regents committee meeting Thursday.

Laura Coffin Koch, associate vice provost for first-year programs, and June Nobbe, interim associate vice provost for student affairs, attributed the University’s success to programs such as convocation, freshman seminars and New Student Weekend.

The programs address student concerns such as adjusting to life away from home, the University’s size and commuting to campus by having New Student Weekend and living-learning communities, Nobbe said.

“The first year is very critical because it has a direct impact on students’ level of satisfaction,” she said.

Koch said seminars directly influence retention rates, adding that in 1998, the school saw an approximately 7 percent increase in second-year retention rates for students who took seminars.

Along with higher retention rates, the required 13-credit minimum will improve graduation rates, Koch said. The University has set an ambitious goal of a 50 percent four-year graduation rate for undergraduates. Regents Clyde Allen Jr. and Dave Metzen voiced concern over the requirement’s effect on part-time students and students with special needs.

“There are a lot of issues out there that we certainly do not want to discourage,” Metzen said.

The 13-credit minimum was also discussed at the Legislature on Thursday morning.

University Provost Christine Maziar presented a state-required biennial Academic Priorities Report and said the University is committed to improving graduation rates.

After an increased focus on graduation rates since 2001, she said, the four-year graduation rate is double that of 1992, and five- and six-year rates are also up.

“For a lot of years, we were making excuses at the University for why that rate wasn’t higher,” she said.

During the first year of the new 13-credit minimum course load, Maziar said, the proportion of first-year students carrying fewer than 13 credits dropped from 10 percent to 1 percent, and first-year students dropped fewer classes mid-semester.

– Andrew Pritchard contributed to this report

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