More enroll despite cost

by Molly Moker

Although tuition is rising, the University has received more admission applications than ever before, causing some University economics professors to say they believe tuition increases might be unavoidable.

Tuition rose 14.7 percent last year, yet 644 more students enrolled. Tuition is estimated to rise 14 percent again next year.

Increases in tuition might not affect the number of students who apply to the University, but for lower-income families, higher education could become unaffordable, higher-education officials said.

Wayne Sigler, admissions director, said increasing tuition is not turning away prospective students.

As of March 12, Sigler said, the University has received 1,129 more first-year applications than last year, when 17,355 applications set a record high. Sigler said that for the most part, next year’s first-year class is already full and applications are still coming in.

“A significant increase in tuition and fees is a concern for parents, and students, and the University,” Sigler said. “But the University of Minnesota is still seen as a great value.”

Since 1995, first-year applications to the University have increased 45 percent, said Christina Boettcher, Office of Admissions chief of staff.

Sigler said an increase in admissions applications does not translate into further tuition hikes.

“We don’t pretend the University is perfect; it’s not perfect,” Sigler said. “But on balance, we’re one of the greatest values in the country. Our retention rates show it.”

First-year retention rates at the University in 2002 were at 86 percent, even though tuition increased 14.4 percent that year.

Professor Michele Boldrin said that if the institution is still seeing student interest and making money, tuition increases should not be a major concern.

“Why should you lower your price if the shopkeeper around the corner is charging something higher?” Boldrin said. “If (students) are willing to pay it, the University can increase it.”

Ed Foster, economics department chairman, said that without state funding, the University has no choice but to increase its tuition.

“If the University decreases tuition, the money has to be directed from some other place,” Foster said. “And it might not be politically possible to do that.”

Outside of state funding, Foster said, when figuring out tuition, the University will need to decide if making money is more important than admitting students from lower-income families.

Some prospective students said rising tuition will not turn them away from coming to the University.

J.J. Hepola, a Bemidji High School senior, said he is debating between attending the University and Bemidji State University.

“(The rising tuition) is an issue, but it’s worth paying to come here,” Hepola said. “I’ll probably take out loans; it’s just something that I always figured I’d have to do.”

Kristen Hansen, a senior at Cambria-Friesland High School in Cambria, Wis., said she was not aware of the University’s tuition increases until she came to campus Thursday.

But compared to other schools, Hansen said, the University is a good deal.

“Tuition is increasing at every school I looked at,” Hansen said. “For a good education, you have to pay.”

The cost of education

Kris Wright, director of the Office of Student Finance, said that as tuition increases, student aid increases as well.

The University’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting found that 8,563 students throughout the Twin Cities, Duluth, Morris and Crookston campuses received Pell Grants in fiscal year 2004. That’s up from 7,307 in 2001. Pell Grants are awarded to students with the lowest family incomes, Wright said.

She said that because of financial aid, students from all family income levels can find ways to finance a university education.

Wright said 50 percent of students at the University apply for some type of financial aid.

Although tuition is continually rising at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the institution is filling its enrollment quota, said Keith White, assistant admissions director at the university.

White said the university’s tuition has increased 60 percent during the last 10 years, but applications exceed the institution’s enrollment cap.

A change in students

A national study estimated that 250,000 students left school last year because they could not afford it.

The study, by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, was based on information from California, Florida, Washington and Virginia.

Mikyung Ryu, senior policy analyst for the center, said the states were chosen to represent the country because they have the largest state higher education systems.

A survey administered to first-year University students every other year estimated that in 2003, the median family income was $75,000, said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Students with a yearly family income level between $75,000 and $99,999 were most prevalent in the survey, with 18.9 percent of the current first-year class falling in that range.

Slightly less, 18.5 percent, said their family income was between $100,000 and $149,999. In the 1997 survey, the most common family income was between $60,000 and $74,999.

The average family income at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is $89,000, White said. He said that is at least $20,000 higher than any other institution in the University of Wisconsin System.

“We’ve seen a relentless increase in students’ family income over time,” White said.

Although White said students from lower-income families might have difficulty affording the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he said he does not believe they are being priced out of higher education.

Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst for the Office Institutional Research and Reporting, said he does not think most students leave the University for financial reasons.

“Most students leave because they don’t like it here, or they don’t succeed,” Zetterberg said. “Or they get married, their girlfriend goes somewhere else, they get hit by a bus. I doubt leaving due to financial reasons is the big problem.”