The University of Minnesota voted to freeze tuition for two years last month, a trend picking up around the nation.
The University’s Board of Regents on Oct. 12 unanimously approved a biennial budget plan to reform how the University gets its funding.
“It’s not just a Minnesota problem,” Regent Laura Brod said. “The cost of higher education has been going up dramatically across the country over time.”
Universities in Arizona, Iowa, Maine and New Hampshire have promised a tuition freeze for in-state students in the coming years to ensure students’ financial stability.
“I think we were one of the largest schools to make that statement relative to tuition,” Brod said.
Jay Kiedrowski, a senior fellow at the
Humphrey School of Public Affairs who specializes in financial analysis, said the University was a leader in this new approach to funding.
“The trend here is really grounded in the priorities of President Eric Kaler and this new conversation with the Legislature,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.
Kaler has previously told the Minnesota Daily that stabilizing tuition is the best investment for the University’s future.
“He’s recognized tuition has increased significantly, student debt is up and state funding is down,” Pfutzenreuter said.
Craig Lang, president of the Iowa Board of Regents, said he has heard concerns since the board’s decision last month to freeze tuition at three of the state’s public universities: the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
Lang said students and families said they were worried that freezing tuition now would raise costs in future years to make up for the difference — the student government at the University of Northern Iowa even chose to not support the freeze.
“But we are going to freeze it anyway,” Lang said.
“It’s our promise to stay in the higher education guidelines,” he said. “If we find ourselves in the position where we have to make up the difference, we’re going to find the cuts in efficiencies on campus — not charge the students for it.”
Like the University, the tuition freezes in Iowa will only affect in-state students.
“Our focus was that Iowa dollars follow Iowa kids,” Lang said.
Lang said the new plan also includes increasing tuition for out-of-state students.
Brod said “the insecurity of the job market” has influenced the nationwide discussion because “students used to be able to count on increased wages” after graduation. Nowadays, that isn’t the case, she said.
“I think what it boils down to is students and families coming to a tipping point,” Brod said. “They are looking at the costs in relation to the benefits and ways they can come out with less debt.”
With “non-school” expenses increasing at the same time as tuition prices, tuition costs are even more important, Brod said.
“With the economy where it is today, I think the price point [for tuition] is even more important to families and students,” she said.
At the University, tuition will be frozen for two years if the state commits $14.2 million each year of the biennium toward tuition relief.
“If the Legislature approves the proposal, new students next fall would graduate in four years saving $2,500,” Pfutzenreuter said. “That’s more dollars in their pocket or less debt the student has to pay.”
The Legislature will consider the regents’ budget request in January.