Sunny Raju, a high school senior from Pennsylvania, "fell in love" with the University of Minnesota during a tour of campus. He was planning to enroll at the University in 2019 and someday in medical school — until recent tuition increases made him reconsider.
“When I heard about the tuition increase proposed for out-of-state students, I was absolutely gutted,” Raju wrote in a message to the Minnesota Daily.
In December, the University’s Board of Regents approved a 10 percent tuition increase in 2019-2020 for incoming, out-of-state freshmen on the Twin Cities campus. Tuition for non-resident, non-reciprocity (NRNR) students has been increasing since 2015, and is planned to reach approximately $35,000 by 2020. Currently enrolled NRNR students will see a 5.5 percent increase next year. Increasing tuition worries NRNR students, and student government leaders have rallied against tuition hikes.
The increase will impact more than 6,000 current undergraduate students, and will add $2,880 in tuition for each incoming NRNR student.
Raju, who works more than 25 hours each week while taking seven higher level AP classes, hopes to earn $13,000 before committing to a college. He recently received scholarships, but doesn’t know if they will be enough.
“As of now, I have made a little shy of $8,000 to help pay for college … [but] the variable of constantly rising tuition costs as an out-of-state student is daunting,” he said.
Raising tuition to meet in the middle
Until the most recent tuition increase, the University was ranked 12th out of the 14 Big Ten schools for NRNR tuition. In 2008, it lowered NRNR tuition by $7,630 to attract more out-of-state students, but began significantly increasing tuition in 2015.
According to Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, the University is increasing tuition to move the school closer to the middle of the Big Ten's tuition rates.
“There’s no reason why we should be at the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of a non-resident rate, considering the quality of this University,” McMaster said.
Available funds in the form of waivers and scholarships for non-resident students will continue to rise, McMaster said, although most financial aid is directed to Minnesota residents.
“A decision was made to try to build non-resident pipelines. We traditionally had a very low number of non-resident students, and we really wanted to become more of a national university, with much more geographic diversity,” McMaster said.
Sam Adler, a sophomore from Irvine, California, said the University is overestimating how many prospective students would consider Minnesota without cheaper NRNR tuition.
“For a lot of majors, there’s comparable programs at other universities that now cost the same amount,” Adler said. “There’s this sense of disbelief at how the University is overvaluing the education [and the willingness] to move to Minnesota.”
The jump in tuition for incoming NRNR students will generate an extra $1.5 million for the University’s budget. The rest of the revenue — $6.3 million — falls on students who are currently enrolled, according to estimates during a December regents meeting.
As a sophomore, first-generation college student Sharukesh Seker has already seen two increases in tuition since he enrolled at the University to study economics.
While Seker said he could take out student loans to keep up with the rising tuition, he said paying loans back while living in his home country of Sri Lanka would take decades.
“By then I’d want to start a family, travel … I’d start resenting the fact that I went to college in the first place,” he said. “If there is another increase, there’s a good chance I’ll have to just transfer to another college.”
NRNR students already enrolled will see a 5.5 percent increase next year, which is the recommended limit on increases for returning students.
“I don’t see any reason why we should be at the bottom [on non-resident tuition rates]. I think in terms of quality of the institution, we could be at the top — we’re as good as any of the others. But, I think to maintain that geographical diversity, it’s really essential that we keep our non-resident tuition towards the middle of the pack,” McMaster said.
More than 70 percent of students who are currently enrolled at the Twin-Cities campus receive some form of financial aid. For those students who graduate with debt, they typically owe around $33,807, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.
The December docket says additional investments will be made to recruit out-of-state students and retain current NRNR students. However, recent enrollment numbers show a 26 percent drop in NRNR students. Regent Darrin Rosha said in the December board meeting that enrollment doesn't reflect how many students are applying to the University.
“Because their parents and grandparents pay taxes, resident students deserve to pay the least amount. … We need to be able to charge [out-of-state students] some multiple — at least two times the amount,” Regent Michael Hsu said in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.
The University could either increase tuition for resident students or NRNR students, or ask for more money from the legislature for financial support, Regent Steve Sviggum said at the meeting.
“We could become more efficient and reduce our spending in the $4 billion budget. We haven’t been very good about doing that, if that is a choice,” he said.
Student leaders rally against hikes
ForJael Kerandi, one of two Twin Cities student representatives on the Board of Regents who has campaigned to stop tuition increases, the conversation shouldn’t exclude the student voice.
“I can sit here and give you numbers … but if you don’t listen to an actual person who’s going through it, I don’t think it’s that impactful,” Kerandi said.
Kerandi and Austin Kraft, the other student representative on the board, began the "Keep It Low" campaign in early December. They asked NRNR students to submit letters on how the potential increase would impact them and their families.
After receiving more than 630 letters, the two students compiled what they considered to be the most compelling stories in a document submitted to the regents.
Kerandi and Kraft submitted the document within the time period for discussion at the meeting, but said they did not get any confirmation that the regents read the binder.
Still, for several regents, raising tuition is an uncomfortable conversation.
“I’m nervous about the 5.5 [increase for current students] too, I think it’s really hard for people who came here with a certain expectation [of cost]. It makes me queasy,” Regent Peggy Lucas said during the meeting.
More increases planned for next year
Tuition increases are planned for the 2020-2021 school year, but the specific percentage increase won’t be decided until later this year.
“If we just surround ourselves with the same people, we get into ‘group think.’ We’re not aiming at just any student who can come here and pay the sticker price … it’s about what type of students we want at our university,” Kerandi said.
By increasing tuition, the University lowers their accessibility and opportunities to think critically, Kerandi said.
“Prices don’t change perceptions, people do,” Kerandi said to the regents at the meeting.
Kerandi said the regents weren’t fully decided before the meeting, and that there were more votes against the increase than she expected.
“It’ll be informative to see what the application numbers look like for the next cycle … seeing the impact that this does have and holding these regents accountable to see if this happens again,” Kraft said.
Seker, who hopes to graduate early to save money, said the University is losing its balance between academics and affordable prices.
“When you throw that off, you lose that diverse background you can’t really find in places like Wisconsin and Michigan. It’s going to affect diversity as a whole,” he said.