U tuition hike more than MnSCU average

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are not alone in facing lower-than-expected state allocations. But they are unique in their approach to finding solutions to the shortfalls.

MnSCU state allocations increased by $100 million for the biennium – an amount far short of the original $255.6 million request. The $155.6 million gap is even larger than the $122 million gap the University faces.

Across the nation, diminishing state allocations are resulting in tuition increases. Four-year MnSCU schools are expecting an average tuition increase of 10 percent, while two-year schools are expecting an 11.2 percent increase – both lower than the 13.3 percent systemwide tuition hike for University of Minnesota schools.

At St. Cloud State University, administration attempted to get
students and the public involved in budget decisions after it became apparent tuition would increase.

“We’ve been very forward with students that this is coming,” said Diana Burlison, associate vice president of administrative affairs. “As carefully as we could, we planned for this kind of event.”

As early as 1999, SCSU officials went to the students and public to address the need for tuition increases to maintain quality at the university.

The Minnesota State University Student Association reviewed the matter and proposed a permanent 6 percent increase beginning fall 2001 to cover shortfalls in state funding. Additional increases would result in university-determined surcharges to students.

After MSUSA recommendations as well as student and public input, SCSU’s final proposal consisted of a 5 percent increase for operations and another 5 percent increase for “academic distinctions.”

Burlison said the distinctions will add three improvements – three additional graduate student programs, new advisement offices and career planning centers to follow individual students’ college careers and assist them with job and internship placement.

Unlike many MnSCU schools, the University has made sacrifices in light of state-funding shortfalls.

To deal with fiscal problems and increasing tuition, the University must make cuts, said University Provost and Executive Vice President Robert Bruininks.

The University has considered eliminating some student service programs, reducing some employee health care benefits and transferring money from financially stable departments to those in greater need.

Due to their level of preparedness, many MnSCU schools did not have to make the cuts the University did.

“We were very aware of the possibility of state dollars not being there,” Burlison said. “No layoffs of staff or faculty were necessary.”

The only adjustment SCSU had to make was holding position vacancies open longer than preferred.

The goal of administrators at SCSU was to keep academic integrity and quality on campus while dealing with state funding shortfalls, Burlison said.

“To remain in academic excellence, we must raise tuition,” said Frank Loncorich, director of scholarships and financial aid.

With regard to SCSU’s reputation as an affordable, yet high quality institution, Loncorich said, “We like to think of ourselves as the flagship institution in the state.”

Both SCSU and Winona State University increased student wages to deal with tuition burdens.

Like SCSU, WSU administrators suspected early they would soon need to raise tuition levels and find solutions to supplement expected state funds.

“We discussed this prospect with the student senate,” said Greg Peterson, director of financial aid at WSU. “In exchange for the increase, we agreed to increase student employment by $100,000.”

Wages for student workers – both work-study recipients and student help – went from $6.55 to $7.15 at WSU. At SCSU, wages went from $6.15 to $7 an hour.

Loncorich also noted an increased role for financial aid in financing higher education. Of the 14,500 students at SCSU in 2000, 9,690 relied on financial aid.

“We’ve seen a significant and steady increase in (requests for aid),” he said.

While SCSU and WSU sought student input to deal with budget shortfalls, Southwest State University gave its students greater control over budget decisions.

Kenny Meyer, a business management senior, said he felt Southwest State kept students very involved the process.

“(The university) asked if we should cut programs or raise tuition,” Meyer said.

Southwest State is facing a 9.9 percent tuition increase for 2001-02.

“Last spring, we took into consideration how to meet the budgets,” said Connie Smisek, director of Southwest State financial aid. “From there, we went to the student associations, student body and other campus constituent groups and asked for proposals and counterproposals. They all contributed suggestions as to how to lessen the impact of the budget shortfalls.”

Meyer said he was glad they raised tuition instead of cutting programs.

“You want the best education you can get,” he said.

Despite an 11 percent tuition increase for students at North Hennepin Community College, administrators are satisfied they dealt with the problem effectively. Fall 2001 enrollment increased for the school by 11 percent also.

“A tuition increase is never a positive experience,” said Ron Pollworth, communications director. “But we’re offering programs that students like and more students are coming here because of it.”

Financial aid awards increased for students at NHCC, he said.

“Eligible students will be receiving $86 to $400 more in financial aid, which will soften any increase in tuition,” he added.

Like SCSU, NHCC will add programs, which is a possible explanation for the enrollment increase.

Despite SCSU efforts to include students in planning for tuition increases, some students are not as satisfied with the outcome.

Tomoo Inoue, a SCSU senior in political science, doesn’t remember the administration talking to students about budget decisions.

“They went to the student government, not the student population,” he said.

Inoue said he felt this wasn’t an accurate representation of the student body.

“Student government is just 20 people,” he added. “Most of the students didn’t know about what was going on.”

Burlison said while not everyone is happy with the increases, it seems it might be a necessary evil. She said people want educated citizens in Minnesota.

Loncorich, who has worked in higher education his entire life, finds it hard to believe there isn’t a greater emphasis on higher education.

“Higher education is an investment, not an expense,” he said. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected] and Justin Ware
welcomes comments at [email protected]