Tuition plan could affect enrollment

A proposed coordinate campus tuition freeze aims to increase the competitiveness of the schools.

Kevin Beckman

Though the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus would experience a tuition hike under President Eric Kaler’s proposed budget, many on the University’s coordinate campuses are expected to see a tuition freeze. 

The decision is part of a strategy to keep the Morris, Crookston, Duluth and Rochester campuses competitive and distinguish them from the Twin Cities campus, University administrators and members of the Board of Regents say. 

While Kaler’s fiscal year 2017 budget recommendation includes a 2.5 percent tuition hike for Twin Cities campus residents and reciprocity undergraduates and a 7.5 percent jump for nonresidents, tuition will be frozen for most students at the University’s four coordinate campuses. For Duluth nonresident, nonreciprocity undergraduates, tuition would rise by 2.5 percent and by nearly 17 percent — or $2,000 — for their counterparts in Morris. 

“We’ve long had a desire to begin to differentiate between the Twin Cities and the outstate campuses,” said University Chief Financial Officer and Vice President Richard Pfutzenreuter. “It is a conscious strategy to move away and put more distance between the Twin Cities and the outstate campuses.” 

The move comes as the coordinate campuses — like the Duluth one, which has experienced declining enrollment that helped lead to a financial crisis on campus — face tough competition from schools in nearby reciprocity states. 

North Dakota State University, for example, has enrolled an average of more than 1,500 Minnesota freshman each year since 2010, and more than 3,000 Minnesota freshman attended a University of Wisconsin campus in 2016.

Other universities vying for students in regions around outstate campuses include South Dakota State University, the Universities of North and South Dakota, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Superior and La Crosse campuses, Pfutzenreuter said. 

“We just want to make sure that our pricing at the outstate campuses doesn’t disadvantage them from getting students,” he said. “They all have a little bit [of] different competition.”

Another major reason for the tuition freeze proposal, Regent Thomas Devine said, was to try to increase enrollment in University campuses that have room for more students. He said it would be more efficient for the University to add students than it would be to raise tuition.  

“The UMD campus is short about 400 students right now,” Devine said. “If they keep tuition competitive and comparable both in North Dakota and into Wisconsin schools, it will … keep kids in Minnesota and draw those kids from northern Wisconsin.”  

Despite Kaler’s proposed hike in nonresident tuition on the Twin Cities campus, Regent Chair Dean Johnson said he hopes the tuition freezes on outstate campuses will maintain or increase system-wide University enrollment. 

“We’re just trying to be competitive and at the same time recognize tuition competition on student debt,” he said. “It’s a very complicated mixture of things.” 

While many students criticized Kaler’s proposed nonresident, nonreciprocity — who represent about a fourth of the school’s total undergraduate population — tuition hike at board meetings last month, Regents said higher nonresident tuition could be beneficial for the University. 

“By having higher out-of-state tuition, we’re telling students that we have good programs,” said Regent Michael Hsu. “Low out-of-state tuition makes us look like the junior college of the Big Ten.”  

Pfutzenreuter said raising nonresident tuition too high too fast could potentially push out-of-state students away. 

“Nonresident students have a lot of choices as to where they can go,” Pfutzenreuter said. “If we have our nonresident sticker too high like it used to be, kids take a look at [that] and they go elsewhere. … We have to be careful how we package up that nonresident rate.” 

Regents are expected to vote on the proposal Friday.