Budget’s long-term impact may be limited

by Brian Bakst

The Board of Regents got its first peek Thursday at next year’s $1.5 billion operating budget that would boost faculty pay and hold tuition hikes to their lowest point in years.
University officials could not promise, however, that this trend would continue in coming years. Administrators say one-time appropriations from the Legislature might spoil their goal of simultaneously reining in tuition and making faculty salaries competitive.
“We have to rethink things because one important thing — the partnership — didn’t happen,” said the University’s chief financial officer Jo Anne Jackson, referring to a 50-50 funding plan that called for the state and the University to equally share the school’s operating costs.
The Legislature gave the University $151.4 million more than its current two-year allocation, but that appropriation includes $44.4 million in one-time funds and fell about $80 million short of what the school requested in the partnership plan.
If regents adopt the budget in July, University professors would see an average 8.5 percent pay increase. The average tuition hikes would hover around 2.5 percent, depending on college enrollment.
Administrators are billing the low tuition increase as a significant achievement considering that average tuition raises for the past three years were 7.5, 7.5 and 5 percent respectively.
About 7,000 upperclassmen in colleges such as the liberal arts and agriculture would pay only 2 percent more than they did this year. But 8,000 freshmen and sophomores on the Twin Cities campus would see a 5 percent increase. About 7,000 Carlson School of Management and Institute of Technology upperclassmen would pay the same amount as they did this year.
“If you’re an IT student, you are in good shape,” said Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs. As the University strives to equalize tuition between colleges, IT and Carlson students will likely see modest or no increases for the next few years, Marshak added.
At the same time, students in colleges who have traditionally paid less will see more steadily increasing rates to help even out the gaps.
Tuition for some individual graduate programs would rise by double-digit percentages under the budget outline. For example, rates for the master of hospital administration program would skyrocket 21 percent. The program was recently shifted to the business school from the School of Public Health. The new tuition rate reflects the market value for similar programs across the country.
Administrators recently presented the budget proposal to a 10-member student panel known as the Student Tuition Advisory Board and got a chilly reception.
“Our general concern is the trend that tuition has to increase every year,” said panel member Matt Curry.
Marshak countered by saying that the University raises tuition annually to keep pace with inflation that would otherwise reduce the institution’s buying power.
In the same respect, the University wants to preserve the buying power of its full-time employees by boosting their pay by an estimated 2.5 percent. On top of that, faculty members would split a $13 million compensation pool to reverse a trend that has seen University salaries fall among peer research institutions.
During the next three years administrators would like to bring faculty salaries to the middle of a 30-school group of comparable research universities, like the University of Wisconsin and the University of California.
Officials hope to reduce the pinch on students by keeping quarterly student services fees stable. Under the budget proposal they would go up $2 for students on the Twin Cities campus.
But individual colleges are proposing special fee hikes. For instance, the colleges of Human Ecology and Natural Resources want to impose a $50-per-quarter computer fee. Also, the Carlson School wants to add $260 to $290 in application and confirmation fees.
The budget plan does little to address the University’s ailing physical condition. Officials are currently constructing a capital budget request aimed at chipping away the more than $1 billion facility renewal and maintenance backlog.
Included in the operating budget is $640,000 for the presidential mansion at Eastcliff.