Grad freeze raises concerns

If a new tuition freeze begins next year, some are questioning how it will be implemented.

Kate Clark

A proposed tuition freeze for graduate and professional students at the University of Minnesota has some school deans worried.

Although many graduate and professional schools at the University have varied tuition rates, President Eric Kaler proposed an across-the-board tuition freeze last month for graduate and professional students paying in-state tuition.

Some leaders at the schools say they fully support the change because it helps lower students’ costs, but concerns have surfaced that the proposed freeze will present challenges.

Some deans worry that it will make hiring more difficult and some expenses won’t be covered without increases in tuition revenue.

The plan is pending the Board of Regents’ approval, and if granted, the state Legislature would make the final call. If approved, the state Legislature would provide funding to help enact the freeze.

But how the across-the-board tuition freeze would roll out across multiple colleges and departments — most of which have different tuition rates — is unclear.

The College of Veterinary Medicine already enacted a tuition freeze this year for professional students and lowered fourth-year students’ tuition by 8 percent.

The college’s dean, Trevor Ames, said Kaler’s proposed freeze would help the school continue its own.

“Our students are certainly happy that we have done this,” he said. “They appreciate what we’ve done and look forward to us continuing to do things to control their student debt.”

The college covered the costs of its tuition freeze primarily through spending cuts and reductions in the number of employees, Ames said.

Other deans say they’re wary of how the freeze will affect their schools.

While he acknowledged that students worry about increased tuition, College of Design Dean Thomas Fisher said he’s concerned that the freeze, if approved, could affect a source of revenue for his college.

“I worry about how we are going to pay our bills and make ends meet when a major source of our income — tuition — is held flat while other costs continue to rise,” he said.

According to Kaler’s proposal, tuition rates would only halt if the state Legislature approved the plan and provided state funding to offset future tuition hikes.

The Legislature would have to invest $65 million to cover a 3.5 percent tuition hike for graduate and professional students next year, according to Kaler’s proposal.

College of Pharmacy Dean Marilyn Speedie said in an emailed statement that she hopes state lawmakers will provide funding for stagnant tuition.

“We support the proposed tuition freeze for our professional and graduate students, but we can’t do it without legislative support,” she said in the statement.

But Fisher said the University should increase its reliance on internal cost cutting to manage tuition, rather than shifting the financial burden to the state and the public.

He said he would prefer flexibility in how the freeze rolls out because graduate and professional programs have diverse tuition rates. He also said the University should work toward being more efficient to cut costs.

While the College of Design continues to cut and keep overhead costs down, a freeze could make it difficult to hire new faculty members, Fisher said.

Ames said he thinks a freeze would benefit the College of Veterinary Medicine and its students, despite potential financial complications.

“I think it can work,” Ames said. “We found ways to make it work within our financial system.”