Balancing tuition and aid

With tuition hikes, program cuts, campus closures and layoffs all on the table, students, faculty and staff have a significant stake in how the University will address its proposed $185 million reduction in funding. Because the University is certain to make double-digit tuition increases to confront much of the budget shortfall, the cost of tuition and the amount of financial aid available to students are at the fore of these concerns. But the issue goes beyond just tuition and aid; it has far-reaching implications that involve advancing the University’s mission in a time of economic uncertainty.

A debate at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Policy Forum today will deal with this timely subject. Discussing the issue “High tuition, high financial aid: Does it serve public needs?” are John Brandl, former dean of the Humphrey Institute, and Ken Keller, former University president. The debate mirrors the difficulties the University faces in sustaining its public mission when legislators divert higher-education funding to student aid.

Students are strapped for cash in their pursuit of learning, and financial pressures on higher education are expected to continue after an economic recovery.

As it stands, the Minnesota State Grant Program funds only undergraduate students. With 40 percent of the University’s students enrolled in graduate and professional programs – programs that have an impact on the state’s economy – many students go without needed aid. Increases in financial aid do not do much to support this portion of the University’s mission.

Projections released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education show that great strains on higher education likely will last beyond the current economic downturn. Even if a recovery can stomach President George W. Bush’s plans for war and tax cuts, the outlook for support of higher education is not good. Both undergraduates and their representatives at the Legislature must understand that it would be unwise to increase financial aid at the expense of allowing the University to carry out its mission.