Last guaranteed tuition enrollees to graduate

This year marks the graduation of the last students enrolled in the University of MinnesotaâÄôs now defunct Guaranteed Tuition Plan. The plan, which was first instituted in 1994 by the Board of Regents, allowed students to pay a frozen tuition rate for up to five years. The rate was set higher than for other incoming freshmen to accommodate the anticipated increase in tuition over the next five years. In those five years, if the tuition rate inflated above the studentâÄôs set price, it would have no effect on the guaranteed rate. If the student ended up paying more than the standard tuition rate, the University would issue a refund when he or she graduated. This year, around 10 to 15 people on the plan have requested a refund this year, each worth $2,500, University spokesman Dan Wolter said in an e-mail. But the University cut the program in at the end of 2003, University Senior Analyst Peter Zetterberg said, due to lack of interest and the costs related to keeping track of the various tuition rates. During its 10-year duration from 1994 to 2003, the program averaged 120 first-year students enrolling in the Guaranteed Tuition Plan . During its final year, the 2003-2004 school year, only 67 first-year students used the program. Despite the program being cut, many people, such as Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, feel that other alternatives are necessary as tuition rates continue to rise. Rukavina introduced a bill in 2007 that sought to encourage a tuition freeze for students over a five-year period, similar to the Guaranteed Tuition Rate. While the bill did not pass, Rukavina said with the economy slowing down, everyone, including the University, needs to âÄúsuck it in.âÄù âÄúIt is not the right time to be asking for money for a new research facility,âÄù Rukavina said. While he supports the UniversityâÄôs efforts to establish scholarships for students from middle-class families, Rukavina said University Regents need to put their foot down to assess how the University will make it through the âÄúlooming depression.âÄù Regents Vice Chairman Clyde E. Allen Jr . said at the time the program was discontinued, the University was facing financial troubles. At that time, the University found with some students paying less than others, the University and those not enrolled in the plan may have to pay the difference, Allen said. âÄúIt seems to me, tailoring some of the scholarship money and trying to hold the prices down for particular groups is better than a general guarantee for everyone, because everyone is not in the same economic status,âÄù Allen said. While Zetterberg said the University has not considered implementing another program like the Guaranteed Tuition Rate, Regent Dallas Bohnsack said he would be open to discussing the possibility of another program aimed at tuition should the right circumstances arise. Bohnsack, whose daughter used a similar tuition program at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter , Minn., said a big determinate of whether a program is feasible is how it will affect the budget. While the Gustavus Guaranteed Cost Plan has also been discontinued , many schools around the country have sought to create programs confronting the issue of rising tuition. Schools that have implemented similar programs include Arizona State University , University of Illinois and Southeast Missouri State University . Sen. Sandra Pappas , DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education committee, said programs like the Guaranteed Tuition Rate give students the ability to plan ahead. âÄúI think all those strategies are really useful; that way students can kind of plan if they know what tuition is going to be, they know how much they have to borrow and they know how much they have to work and save,âÄù she said. âÄúIt puts some certainty into their future.âÄù Pappas said current efforts, such as giving more money for scholarships is good, but the Legislature currently doesnâÄôt have the money required to support the UniversityâÄôs scholarship goals. âÄúThe University should educate at an affordable rate,âÄù Pappas said, adding the University needs to seek out more cost-effective ways to operate. With a 9 percent increase in tuition planned over the next two years, both Pappas and Rukavina acknowledge the limitations of the government to legally institute a tuition cap for the University. Pappas said the constitution has prevented such legislation for the University in past years. But she added the government can request or âÄústrongly encourageâÄù the University to cap tuition. Still, she said she was cautious of the economic implications for the University if the government chose to mandate a tuition cap. While Wolter recognizes the importance for the University to meet each studentâÄôs financial needs, he said there are no signs that reintroducing a program like the Guaranteed Tuition Rate would be any more successful now than it was before. To Wolter, the current efforts to create scholarships are a better alternative as the University continues to deal with rising tuition.