Five percent tuition increase causes debate at Regents’ meeting


By Michael Wunder, NEWS EDITOR

This fall, college will be $135 more expensive.

The Board of Regents unanimously approved a 2011-12 operating budget June 17 that would raise tuition by 5 percent, continuing similar increases over the past seven years.

The increase would bring the total resident rate tuition for  a 15-credit-hour semester at UNO to $2,846, up from $2,711.  University of Nebraska President James proposed the bill.

“We have promised Nebraska families that we will keep higher education affordable and accessible through moderate and predictable tuition increases and a strong commitment to student financial aid,” Milliken said when he announced the budget June 9. “This budget continues that strategy, with a 5 percent tuition increase – keeping us well below similar universities – and an additional investment in need-based financial aid. Affordable access is key to our goal of building a higher level of educational attainment in Nebraska.”

The operating budget includes $10.4 million for need-based financial aid.  The state has allocated another $1.25 million, of which $500,000 will go to NU students.  UNO, UNL and UNK also pitched in a one-time investment of $1.1 million.

Jack Laughter, a UNK student, spoke against the proposed budget during the meeting’s public forum.  Laughter, skeptical of the increase, said he understood the University has to pay bills, but $70 million in budget cuts—including the elimination of UNL programs and jobs university-wide—was “not enough.”

“Before you vote ‘yes’ on this tuition spike, ask yourself if you have done everything in your power to avoid raising tuition,” he said.

Laughter, like many students, works multiple jobs, is “buried in debt” from student loans and faces years of repayments.

“At what point does it become impossible for us to afford it?” he asked.

Regent Randolph Ferlic said he was “somewhat moved” by Laughter’s comments, citing that although the tuition increase was inevitable, more could have been done.

“We’ve done a great deal,” Ferlic said.  “But have we done everything?  No.”

Before voting, UNO Student Body President/Regent Liz O’Connor stressed the student perspective.

“Five percent might not be a lot on paper,” she said.  “But students at UNO are going to feel it.”

Many of the regents expressed their overall opposition against tuition increases, but all agreed there was no other solution.

“I’d love it if we had zero percent tuition increases,” said Regent Bob Phares.  “It’s just not possible in this environment.”

Milliken, in an e-mail interview with the Gateway, said UNO remains an “excellent value.”

“For 2010-11, tuition and fees at UNO are 12.5 percent below the peer average,” Milliken said.  “Many of UNO’s peers have announced tuition increases larger than 5 percent this year, so UNO will continue to be a great choice for students who want a high-quality education for an affordable price.”

Among those schools considered UNO peers are North Carolina at Charlotte, Missouri-St. Louis and Northern Iowa.

Also included in the budget is a provision to raise UNO faculty salaries by 1.1 percent over the next two years.

Because the University of Nebraska system still faces a $6 million shortfall, “difficult” budget reallocations will have to be made this biennium, Milliken said.

“2011-12 and 2012-13 will be the fourth and fifth years of essentially flat state funding for the university,” he said.  “We cannot invest in our priorities and keep tuition affordable without making reductions to other programs and services.”

Despite forthcoming cuts, Milliken did acknowledge NU’s success.

“The University of Nebraska enjoys tremendous momentum today,” he said.  “We had the highest enrollment in 17 years, a record amount of external funding for research, strong physical growth on our campuses and extraordinary support from private donors even in a difficult economy.”

Milliken gave credit to faculty, staff, administrators and regents for these accomplishments and said there’s no reason such momentum can’t continue.

“I believe we should be a larger University,” Milliken said.  “Particularly UNO.”