U finances stable under semesters

Justin Costley

The semester conversion’s impact on tuition revenue, student enrollment and student classload dominated the Thursday meeting of the Board of Regents’ Finance and Operations Committee.
Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst at the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, deemed the effectiveness of the University’s tuition policy under semesters a success.
When planning semester tuition, regents feared students would take a lighter classload this fall, the first semester after the conversion. Typically, credit loads go down at universities when they switch from quarter to semester calendars.
Zetterberg explained that students grow accustomed to taking four four-credit quarter classes for a full load, and it is difficult to convince students to take the five three-credit semester courses to maintain the same credit load.
To encourage students to take more classes, regents enacted a tuition scale, charging students half-price for every credit hour more than 12.
Zetterberg said that while fall 1999 credit loads are not as good as he had hoped, they are still better than most people thought they would be.
“I think we have succeeded in minimizing what we knew was going to be some inevitable loss in average student credit load,” he said.
In what he characterized as a separate issue, Zetterberg and the board expressed concern about the effect the conversion would have on full-time students who usually take more than the minimum full-time requirement of 12 credits. They thought those students would likely drop to the minimum 12 or 13 credits under the semester system.
But Zetterberg happily confirmed that the credit loads of those credit-laden students were virtually unchanged from last fall.
“This, I think, is the best indication that the tuition plan we adopted for the Twin Cities campus did, in fact, work,” Zetterberg said.
H. Bryan Neel III, chair of the Finance and Operations Committee, said praise of the semester-tuition program should go to Zetterberg and Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.
Neel said their ability to promote the semester conversion, new tuition plan and maintaining a full course load helped students stay on track toward graduation.
“If the students didn’t have this information or know this, they could have easily fallen through,” Neel said.
Toughened admissions standards
Without the ability to project total revenue, Zetterberg used average student credit load and student enrollment to project the semester conversion’s impact on University tuition revenue.
Total enrollment this fall declined 3 percent from last year. Enrollment in the whole University of Minnesota system totals 52,820 students, with 26,469 students at the Twin Cities campuses.
“This is exactly what we thought would happen,” Zetterberg said. “We did anticipate a larger than usual number of graduations last fall, and that did happen.”
While total enrollment is down, overall freshman enrollment is up 3.4 percent because of increases at the Duluth, Crookston and Twin Cities campuses.
The Twin Cities campus received applications from 15,000 new students this year, more than usual. Despite the increase, the number of students accepted by the University stayed roughly the same at 11,000.
Zetterberg said the upward trend in application volume allowed the University to push its standards higher.
“We have raised the bar,” Zetterberg said. “The College of Liberal Arts is an example of that.”

School finances in good standing
In addition to presentations on the semester conversion and University tuition revenue, members of the Finance and Operations Committee listened to Terry O’Connor, senior vice president for finance, present information on the 1998-99 fiscal year that closed in August.
“Overall, the University had a very good year,” O’Connor said.
The University’s financial resources are on par with other large universities, including Michigan, Ohio State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Zetterberg said.
“I think the balance sheet of this University is very comparable to what you would find if you were to look at the balance sheet of these other universities.”
The committee also unanimously approved expenditures of more than $250,000 each for programs providing online access to University databases and online academic journals.

Justin Costley covers business and welcomes comments at [email protected]