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Under the plan submitted to the U's Board of Regents June 7 and 8, the highest tuition increase for an undergraduate student would be 4.5 percent next year, and about 75 percent of students would see an increase of 2 percent or less.

Bruininks unveils tuition reform plan

Measures include expanded tuition banding and changes to reciprocity agreement

By Rick Moore

June 8, 2007; updated for Brief, June 13, 2007

Few topics are as relevant and sensitive for college students as the rising cost of tuition. And like death, taxes, and finals week, few things are seemingly as unavoidable.

But the University of Minnesota is taking concrete steps to soften the burden of tuition for students on all of its campuses. On June 7 President Bob Bruininks discussed with the Board of Regents a multifaceted plan for tuition reform systemwide.

The proposed "tuition reform" plan has four main components. It will:

In addition to making tuition more affordable for most of the U's students, the plan is designed to improve graduation rates, enhance the tuition competitiveness of the U's outstate campuses, and address future recruitment challenges posed by declining numbers of high school graduates in the region.

"We need to move away from the 'one-size-fits-all' approach to tuition to ensure more affordable access and graduate diverse students into the workforce," said Bruininks. "The level of legislative support--combined with expanded financial assistance and our planned tuition reforms--will mean most Minnesota undergraduates will see a tuition increase of less than 2 percent next year."

A closer look at the proposed reforms

The 13-credit tuition band means that when students take more than 13 credits in a semester, all of the additional credits are free. Expanding the 13-credit band to the Crookston, Duluth, and Morris campuses will enable their students to significantly reduce the total cost of their education. Students who graduate in four years could see savings of as much as $20,000 compared to graduating in five years. The plan has also helped improve graduation rates on the Twin Cities campus.

Support for students from lower- and middle-income families: The Founders Free Tuition Program, which provides free tuition for all low-income Minnesota resident undergraduate students eligible for the federal Pell grant, will continue to provide an unprecedented level of financial support for those students.

Now, in addition, Minnesota resident students from families with an income of $150,000 or less will receive scholarship assistance that will make their effective tuition increase about 2 percent in for the coming year. The scholarship assistance is available through a provision in the higher education appropriations bill.

The tuition reform proposal also includes resetting the tuition rates at the Duluth and Morris campuses--which tend to be higher than comparable regional institutions--to be less than the Twin Cities campus. Additionally, and to address the challenges created by the decline in the number of high school graduates in Minnesota and neighboring states, the nonresident undergraduate tuition will be lowered to $2,000 more per semester than resident tuition on the Twin Cities campus and $1,000 more on the Duluth campus. The changes in nonresident tuition rates would be effective beginning fall semester of 2008.

"Historically, 10 percent of Minnesota's high school graduates have come to the U and we are committed to maintaining that level of resident enrollment," said Bruininks. "But with demographic changes and the number of high school graduates dropping, we need to protect our place as a magnet to bring the best and brightest talent to Minnesota."

In the current tuition reciprocity agreement with Wisconsin, Minnesota residents pay higher tuition at the University of Minnesota than students from Wisconsin. Unless changes are made, the University seeks to withdraw from the agreement and establish tuition rates for Wisconsin students that are the same as for Minnesota residents.

Bruininks illustrated the overall effect of the tuition reform proposals on the tuition increases--or decreases--various groups of students could expect to see this coming year.

No undergraduate student on any campus will see more than a 4.5 percent increase in tuition, he noted, and about 75 percent will see an increase of 2 percent or less. "I think that's an extraordinary story," he said, adding that it wouldn't be possible to tell without the support of the House and the Senate, which funded approximately 82 percent of the U's budget request.

And "the Morris campus is an extraordinarily good-news story," he added. There, where students typically take a higher credit load, an average student could expect a net tuition decrease of a little more than $1,000--or about 11.7 percent--for the upcoming academic year.

The regents will hold a public forum on the University's annual operating budget--which includes the President's tuition reform recommendations--Wednesday, June 13, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., in the Boardroom of the McNamara Alumni Center, Minneapolis.

Final action on the annual operating budget and tuition reform recommendations will be taken at a special meeting, Wednesday, June 27, at 1 p.m., also in the Boardroom of the McNamara Alumni Center.

Tenure code revisions approved; other action

In other action June 7 and 8, the board approved amendments to Board of Regents policy for faculty tenure, increasing the rigor of criteria for promotion and tenure and addressing work-life balance issues. For more information, see the docket materials, Faculty, Staff, and Student Affairs Committee, June 7, pp. 4-35.

The board also approved a biomass heating plant addition to the facilities on the Morris campus.

The Educational Policy and Planning Committee heard reports on positioning the University's libraries in the digital age and on information management and distribution in the 21st century research university, presented by senior vice president and provost Tom Sullivan, Wendy Pradt Lougee of University Libraries, and vice provost Billie Wahlstrom. The recently announced contract with Google to digitize selected University library resources was approved.

Recipients of the 2007 President's Award for Outstanding Service were recognized in the full board meeting June 8.

Regent Patricia Simmons was elected as the new chair of the board. Simmons, who lives in the Rochester area, joined the board in 2003 and has served as vice chair. A physician in the department of pediatrics and adolescent medicine, Mayo Clinic, and a professor of pediatrics in the Mayo Medical School, she received a bachelor's degree from Carleton College, magna cum laude, and a medical degree from the University of Chicago.

"Serving the public as a regent of the University of Minnesota is a great honor," said Simmons. "I look forward to working with my colleagues on the board and the president to help the university fulfill its mission and best meet the needs of Minnesota."

Clyde Allen, Jr., of Moorhead, a board member since 2003, was elected as the new vice chair. Allen is retired following a career in the private and public sectors. He most recently served as treasurer and vice president for business affairs for Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. Allen is a graduate of Yale University with a degree in political science.

The 2007-08 Board of Regents schedule was approved and is now available at Board Meetings.

Contains information from the University News Service and and Gayla Marty.