Trustees approve 4.9% increase in tuition and fees

The Board of Trustees on June 6 approved a 4.9 percent increase in student fees for undergraduates and most graduate students, but pledged to freeze charges for the next two years if the state agrees to fund 50 percent of the five-campus system’s education budget.
 
“If the state agrees to take on a more equitable share of the funding burden over the next two years, we will keep tuition and fees frozen at this new level,” said James J. Karam, chairman of the board.
 
“We would be the first public university in the country to hold the line on tuition and fees for two full years if the state joins us in this effort,” Karam said. “This would send a powerful message that we are all serious about controlling the cost of higher education and easing the debt burden on our students.”
 
The budget for the coming year and the proposal to freeze costs to families for the next two years contingent on increased state funding passed on a 15-2 vote of the board.
 
Under the new student-charge structure, tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates will on average rise from $11,901 during this past year to $12,481 in 2012-13.
 
During this past academic year, the state provided 45 percent of the funding for the university system’s educational programs, while students and their families shouldered 55 percent of the burden. Next year, the state’s share is expected to dip to 43 percent. The state most recently provided 50 percent of the university’s general education funding in fiscal year 2009.
 
“We need to get back to a footing where the state is funding its public university at some reasonable level, at least equal to what students and their parents are paying,” said President Robert L. Caret. “To do otherwise is to take the ‘public’ out of public higher education.”
 
Under the proposal approved by the trustees, tuition and fees on average will increase by $580 for in-state undergraduates during the 2012-13 year. The 4.9 percent increase – which applies to all undergraduate and most graduate students -- will generate $25 million in additional revenue for academic programs.
 
The board also voted to expand the scope and activities of its efficiencies taskforce and asked the taskforce to report back on “findings and strategies for achieving cost savings for the University.”
 
In voting to approve the fee increase for next year, trustees said that the system faces $63 million in rising costs next year as a result of negotiated contractual increases with its 10,620 unionized employees and because of increased debt service resulting from the $2.4 billion construction and renovation campaign undertaken over the past decade. The contracts were negotiated based on guidance and parameters established by the state.
 
“On one hand, I was attracted to the idea of freezing tuition and fees, but that would have forced us to make dramatic and unacceptable cuts in a range of programs to offset rising labor and debt-service costs. Conversely, we could have mirrored the near double-digit increases we are seeing in other states to more fully cover rising costs, but that would have imposed too great a burden on students and their families. We see this as the reasonable and responsible course,” Caret noted.
 
“This is never an easy issue,” Karam said. “Certainly, the easiest decision would be to never increase our student charges. But to take that course would be to consign the University to decay and decline, particularly in an era where this state, like states all over the nation, no longer funds public higher education at the level that it once did. And decay and decline is something we can never accept. We are determined to move forward, understanding that we need to safeguard affordability in a number of ways, particularly by making sure that sufficient amounts of financial aid get to the students who need aid most. We are proud to see that the University’s own spending on financial aid reached record levels during this past year, and the Board of Trustees considers aid to be a top priority.”