Support the U at the Capitol

Tuition increases and student indebtedness is directly influenced by decisions made at the Capitol.

Tomorrow, Universitiy students have the chance to let their voices be heard during “Support the U Day” at the State Capitol. By hitching a free bus ride from behind Coffman Union or the St. Paul Student Center, students can take part in a noon rally, a free pizza lunch and have the opportunity to meet with legislators as they work toward a state budget that includes vital funding for the University of Minnesota.

Much of the University’s budget comes from student tuition and a biennial state appropriation. Since Minnesota’s state budget deficit in 2003 and the state budget-balancing measures that ensued, this state appropriation has lagged considerably, causing tuition to skyrocket. Just like a teeter-totter, as the state’s contribution to funding the University went down, tuition went up.

In 2003, this balance between student tuition and state funding tipped toward the latter, with the ratio of state funding to student tuition nearly 2-to-1. Four years later, that ratio is nearly 1-to-1, with student tuition filling the void of a dwindling state contribution.

During this time, undergraduate tuition rates have increased by an average of more than 10 percent annually. To pay the bills, undergrads are increasingly relying upon student loans. Last year, 62 percent of University undergrads left school with student loans averaging more than $23,000.

Unfortunately, the story for the University’s graduate and professional students is no better. Graduate student tuition nearly doubled in the past six years, with graduate tuition rates increasing an average of more than 11 percent annually during this time. For graduate students matriculating in 2006, those relying upon student loans to complete their graduate programs incurred an average of $30,000 in additional debt.

With the exception of its medical and dental schools, University graduate and professional schools rank among the Big Ten’s top three in resident tuition and required fees for 2006-07. Last year, roughly 90 percent of our professional students graduated with significant debt – ranging from an average of $74,000 for law school grads to an average of more than $126,000 for students entering the dental profession. Unfortunately, these numbers are often understated because students borrow from other outside sources not tracked by the University.

University figures also demonstrate that the overall number of students who incur debt increased by 35 percent between 2001 and 2006. Moreover, the annual amount borrowed per student increased 50 percent during this time, and the total amount that University students borrow more than doubled, from approximately $170 million in fiscal year 2001 to nearly $345 million in fiscal year 2006. In fairness, enrollment increases explain part – but certainly not all – of this incredible growth in total student borrowing.

Despite higher education’s value as an investment that will yield increased future earnings, no one knows the impact significant student debt might play in one’s decision to own a home, start a family or pursue a relatively nonlucrative career. Further, the mere sticker shock of rapidly increasing tuition might limit the aspirations of America’s next generation.

All told, this trend in tuition increases and student indebtedness is directly influenced by decisions made at the state Capitol. Rather than simply complain, we have the chance to make a difference. Join us at “Support the U Day” and let your voice be heard. For more information, see www.supporttheU.umn.edu.

Matt Schmit is a graduate student at the University. Please send comments to [email protected]