Proposed tuition increases scrutinized

The proposed increase in tuition received criticism from students.

A struggling economy coupled with proposed tuition increases have some at the University worried.

A forum last Wednesday served as an opportunity for the public to voice their opinions about University President Bob Bruininks’ proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2009 – which he presented to the Board of Regents in May.

The projected 7.5 percent increase in tuition received criticism from faculty and students who felt the increase is going against the University’s mission to serve the state of Minnesota.

Tuition will account for 37.7 percent of the University’s revenue for fiscal year 2009, according to the proposed budget.

University administrators need to refocus their priorities around the access and affordability of the University, William Gleason, associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology, said.

The University is too focused on its research goals rather than relieving students of financial burdens and barriers to education, he said

“Continuing on with this Orwellian third-best public research university in the world business, in light of reality, is an embarrassment and only serves to make us look naïve and foolish,” Gleason said.

However, the financial support available for undergraduate students and the quality of education has increased with the increase in tuition, Judith Martin, geography professor, said.

What about grad students?

Despite potential tuition increases, the availability of fellowships matters more for graduate students than the cost of tuition, Gail Dubrow, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, said.

Some of Bruininks’ proposed budget cuts may hinder the availability of fellowships.

With fellowships in hand, those interested in attending the University for graduate school may actually do so.

“Many more top applicants will be able to exercise their preferences (in schools),” she said.

Despite the importance of fellowships, Bruininks’ proposed 9.5 percent tuition increase for Law School students received criticism from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

That increase, coupled with the fact that Law School graduates left school with an average debt of about $74,000, is troubling news for law students, Kristi Kremers, GAPSA president-elect, said.

“Having this much debt can deter them from fully giving back to their communities, state and nation as public servants,” she said.

Capital enhancement fee

Bruininks’ proposed capital enhancement fee, which is meant to enhance the quality of student life through various projects, was also discussed.

Only first-year students will pay the $25 fee next school year, and it will increase and be paid by more students in the following school years.

Every student will pay $100 during the 2012-2013 school year. A student advisory committee will be formed in order to provide students a chance to assess how funds should be used.

The proposed fee was met with some skepticism from outgoing Minnesota Student Association President Emma Olson before she learned of how students will be involved.

The fee may be used to fund projects such as the expansion of the University Recreation Center and the creation of a satellite recreational facility on the West Bank.

Geoff Hart, president-elect of the Council of Graduate Students, said the fee should be worked into tuition so that graduate students with fellowships – which cover tuition costs – wouldn’t have to pay the fee.

Keeping research on par with peers

In addition, the University needs to continue its efforts to pour resources into research investments, physics professor Dan Dahlberg said.

A relatively new research program regarding nanotechnology is facing problems already and future cuts might lead to a reduction in research output down the road, Dahlberg said.

“We do not want to march in time or go backwards,” he said.

The Regents will vote on the operating budget at their June 13 meeting.