Hikes to affect enrollment

Editor's note: The following article is the third in a series of five that explores Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to change the way higher education is funded. Tuesday's article looked at how Colorado funds its higher education institutions, and Thursday's

Approximately 60,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend the University, all for various reasons.

Some students said they chose the University because of its metropolitan location, others came for its many opportunities and others said they attend because of the diverse student body.

But if tuition were to increase anytime soon, many students said, they would reconsider attending the University.

Increased tuition could be the effect of a funding change Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed last month in his State of the State address, University officials said.

Pawlenty’s plan, which is modeled after Colorado’s higher education system, would give students vouchers for the public college or university they attend. The vouchers would replace a percentage of the fund the institution currently receives.

Under such a plan, the University could lose students such as political science senior Anne Mozena, who two years ago transferred to the University from a small private college in Wisconsin. Mozena said she came to the University seeking a more fulfilling college experience.

She mainly wanted to attend the University because it is a state-funded institution whose students are mostly upper- and lower-middle class, she said.

“The reason I came here is for the different experiences with different kinds of people,” Mozena said.

“I wanted to meet people who were kept out of schools by the high tuition, and it seems the very same people are kept out of public schools (with the Colorado plan).”

Mozena also said that if tuition were to increase, she would be worried about where her tuition dollars would actually go.

“Giving money straight to institutions does not in any way guarantee that money would be spent toward tuition reimbursement,” she said.

“As administration changes, they have very different plans for what is important for student growth.”

Tom Zearley, the Minnesota Student Association president, expressed the same sentiment.

Zearley said he is worried the University will lose its emphasis on research and outreach if the plan is followed.

“The money is following the students,” Zearley said, “but at what cost to the University?

“I could see research going down because the infrastructure of the University is not supported as well.”

First-year student Jade Weatherington said she chose the University because she was awarded a four-year merit scholarship from the Multicultural Excellence Program, a diversity recruitment partnership the University holds with St. Paul Public Schools.

But if it weren’t for her scholarship, Weatherington said, she wouldn’t attend the University, because it lacks ethnic diversity, and she worries other students would not attend for the same reason.

“As big as this school is, in a class of 300 people, I am the only black person,” she said.

Although Weatherington credits the University for exceptional courses and instructors, she said it lacks programming for students such as her.

“(The University is) working on it Ö it’s getting better,” she said.

Weatherington said the University should promote diversity by providing more classes or programs that would acquaint minority students with the campus.

First-year student Julie Baewer said the University would need to focus on more scholarship opportunities so students could offset the costs of a higher tuition.

“Looking at the income (of students) would be a variable,” she said.

“(The administration) would have to assess what’s pulling people in.”

Part of the idea of the proposed plan is to make the University more favorable than other colleges.

But Abu Jalal, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said the University does not need to worry about competition because it is the only research institution in the state.

“Giving money to students is not really going to create any new competition in the area,” he said.

“If tuition increases, students won’t have any other options. You can’t go to any other college in Minnesota for research.”