Regents OK tuition increase, budget changes

Sam Kean

The University’s slimmer 2001-02 operating budget and its University-wide consequences dominated discussion at the Board of Regents meeting Thursday.

As a result of the University receiving approximately half its requested funding increase from the Legislature, new faculty hiring will be less and funding for items such as libraries, study abroad opportunities and undergraduate research will not be increased as much as planned.

The board also approved raising tuition by about 10 percent in nearly every college for 2001-02, coupled with a similar increase planned for the following year.

Cuts in certain areas and a tuition increase were the only ways to avoid a slide into overall mediocrity at the University, said Robert Elde, chairman of the Twin Cities Dean Council and dean of the College of Biological Sciences.

This budget allowed the University to make up all but $4.1 million of the original $221 million increase request. As a result, “students will get the protection of investments already made” in past years, such as retaining and recruiting quality faculty, Elde said.

But University President Mark Yudof acknowledged, “What’s been short-changed in there has been academic investments” in new programs.

Yudof emphasized that the University aimed to maintain the quality of its current services. “If you charge more, you have a moral obligation to provide quality,” he said.

Before the budget’s final approval, Yudof and many regents expressed disappointment in the reality of the budget not matching their aspirations. But the board approved it unanimously, saying they had little choice.

The board approved this budget in the context of an earlier annual report about the University’s outstanding debt. As of June 30, 2000, the University owed $537 million – mostly due to construction costs – to be repaid over periods of up to 30 years.

Board members expressed concern that the University might be extending itself too far with such debt, considering current finances. But Richard Pfutzenreuter, associate vice president for budget and finance, said he is confident the University will be able to pay off debts without sacrifices in other areas.

Verona Hong, student representative for the board, said she understood the tuition increases but asked that the board not make them a continual solution to budget shortcomings.

However, the outlook for obtaining additional funding was not optimistic.

In upcoming Legislative sessions, University funding will compete with tax cuts and K-12 education. Redistricting will shift power in the Legislature, meaning future budgets could face struggles at least as difficult as this year’s, said Associate Vice President for University Relations Donna Peterson.

Yudof expressed pessimism at the state of higher education funding in the United States.

Support for state schools across the country is eroding, he noted, and without additional funding from increased donations and tuition increases, the quality of higher education could decrease substantially.

 

Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]