A year out, U reflects on tuition freeze

The freeze has been effective for some students, but it has left others out in the cold.
April 23, 2014

Most University of Minnesota undergraduates didn’t see a tuition increase this year, but others weren’t so lucky.

Undergraduates who pay in-state tuition have saved hundreds of dollars since state legislators approved a tuition freeze last spring.

But non-resident and graduate students aren’t reaping the benefits.

Tuition prices for non-resident and graduate students have increased since last year, and University administrators say hikes could reach undergraduates who pay in-state tuition once the freeze dissolves in 2015.

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster said University officials are discussing tuition rates for when the freeze ends — and noted that increases are possible — while state legislators are hoping to have a stronger voice in the tuition conversation.

State legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton approved a boost to the University’s budget last spring, which allowed for the tuition freeze. During the lobbying process, University officials stressed the need to give Minnesota resident students a tuition break because of their importance to the University’s land-grant mission. Many legislators agreed.

“This is the University of Minnesota, so I think we should be concerned with Minnesota students,” McMaster said. “At the same time, we modestly increased non-resident tuition.”

Students who felt the effects of the freeze — undergraduates from Minnesota and states that receive reciprocity rates —
account for more than 84 percent of University undergraduates.

Graduate students, who make up about 21 percent of the total student body, also saw increases.

The last time resident undergraduate tuition didn’t increase was during the 1999-2000 school year, when it dropped 2.5 percent.

“It’s a substantial amount of money to be able to achieve a tuition freeze,” Board of Regents Chair Richard Beeson said. “It’s not inexpensive to maintain a freeze.”

Non-resident tuition spike

Although non-resident tuition has increased in the last year, University officials say the price is relatively low compared to other Big Ten schools.

Tuition for non-resident undergraduates rose nearly 6 percent to $18,310. McMaster said the hike is justified by the school’s improving reputation and reflects a national trend.

The University needs to stay competitive with other universities, McMaster said, and that usually means implementing hikes.

In the coming years, he said, the University’s tuition rate will rise from one of the cheapest for non-residents to one of the more moderately expensive.

The University has one of the lowest non-resident tuition rates in the Big Ten. McMaster said the school will eventually have to raise its prices to maintain its rankings.

Schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin have strong reputations, he said, which justify their high non-resident tuition rates of more than $40,000 and $26,000, respectively.

As the University’s reputation and rankings improve, tuition rates will have to adjust to reflect the institution’s national standing, McMaster said.

Mass communications sophomore Madeline Davis is a non-resident student from Missouri and faced a tuition increase this year.

“It was definitely noticeable,” she said.

Biochemistry freshman Elizabeth Odegard is from Illinois, also a non-reciprocity state. She said she didn’t care that she wasn’t included in the tuition freeze because she thinks non-resident tuition is reasonable in comparison to other Big Ten schools.

‘More aggressive’ Legislature?

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said many people play a role in decisions about tuition, and the best results are achieved when there’s a strong relationship between school officials and the state Legislature.

She said state legislators may start using a heavier hand to make sure students receive the best tuition rates, because it’s the most effective way to save college students money.

“I think you’re going to see us be even more aggressive in terms of what can be done,” Bonoff said.

Animal science senior Stacey Glaess is a resident student set to graduate this spring. She said she didn’t notice the tuition freeze, but she expects it to pay off in the future.

“In the long run, I’m sure it makes a lot of difference,” she said.

Even though many students were left out, Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition Chair Matt Forstie said the freeze was worthwhile and helpful for the majority of University undergraduates.

“Given the high cost of college and the numerous different costs that make up going to college,” he said, “a few hundred dollars a semester makes a big difference in the lives of a lot of students.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated why the University may have to raise tuition. The school may have to raise prices to maintain its rankings.
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