Funding cuts trigger double-digit tuition hikes

Kari Petrie

University students can expect another round of double-digit tuition increases for each of the next two years, University officials said Thursday.

The latest increase follows tuition hikes of 13.8 percent in 2001-02 and 16 percent in 2002-03.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the tuition increase will be larger the first year than the second year, but both will be within the 15 percent range suggested by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Pawlenty recommended cutting University funding by $185 million for 2004-05 and cut $25 million from this year’s funding.

“Solving half of that budget challenge (with tuition) wouldn’t mandate back-to-back 15 percent (increases),” Pfutzenreuter said.

Pfutzenreuter said the magnitude of the increases depends on future funding cuts made by the Legislature. He said more University funding reductions were a “definite possibility.”

Many University students said they are upset by the news their tuition is rising by double digits.

“That’s just obscene,” Institute of Technology sophomore Quincy Long said. “Honestly, it feels like (students have) been betrayed.”

Others were concerned about the resulting need for financial aid.

“I’m going to be in financial hot water for longer than I anticipated,” College of Liberal Arts sophomore Eric Mattson said.

Melissa Houdek, a mortuary sciences junior, said the increases put her in a difficult position because of her middle-class background. She said her parents make too much money for her to receive financial aid but they cannot afford to put her through college.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford to keep going on with school if the tuitions keep rising,” she said.

Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Robbinsdale, said he worries about access to the University for lower-income students. Graduation rates might decline if students must work more to pay tuition, he said.

Carlson said the state’s $4.2 billion shortfall will make for some tough decisions, but higher education needs to be a priority for Minnesota.

“My hope is that we can modify this before we go forward,” he said.

University President Robert Bruininks said his administration plans for an “aggressive” campaign to increase scholarship donations. He said the plan calls for making available more campus jobs to keep higher education affordable.

“What we will continue to do is put a full hard press on trying to find ways to support students and support the cost of higher education,” he said.

Interim student finance director Kristine Wright said she was unsure how the tuition increases would affect the availability of student financial aid.

University Provost Christine Maziar said the tuition increases will ensure that students continue to receive a high-quality education. However, she said solving the budget problem is a “shared burden.”

“We will see some eliminations, contractions and some consolidations of programs,” Maziar said.

University Board of Regents members were cautious to comment on the suggested tuition increase. They said they expect to hear Bruininks’ tuition proposal next week at their monthly meeting. However, they questioned the impact of reducing University funding.

“Cutting a higher education university is like cutting (the state’s) future,” Regent William Hogan said.

Regent Peter Bell said he was concerned about the effect of tuition increases on students.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see us having other options,” he said.

– Dylan Thomas and Lee Billings contributed to this report.

Kari Petrie covers the Board of Regents and administration. She welcomes comments at [email protected]