Colleges push tuition hikes, state officials raise caution flags

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan universities are re-evaluating their expenses for next year and, with a rumored funding cut ahead, are announcing tuition increases for 2002-03.
Universities across the state announced increases in fees for the next year, with Central Michigan University being the highest of the past few weeks.
On Dec. 13, CMU President Michael Rao announced a 28 percent increase in the cost of one credit hour for the next school year to keep up with rising costs.
The increase would raise the per-credit rate to $152.10 from the current $118.90.
The 28 percent increase comes on the heels of a 12.5 percent increase in tuition from 2000-01 to the current school year.
Mike Silverthorn, executive director of public relations for CMU, said that all the money raised from the tuition increase would go back to the students.
“We had more faculty a few years ago with 16,000 students than we do now for 19,000 students,” Silverthorn said.
“The money gained from tuition would be used to hire more staff. All the money would go to the students.”
State Budget Director Don Gilmer believes that CMU’s tuition increase is too high.
“Both higher education and K-12 got increases (in state funding) last year and they have been put on notice that they shouldn’t expect any more,” Gilmer said.
“An increase (in tuition) of that size is unacceptable.”
CMU does not see it that way, however.
“We would be asking CMU students to pay the average of Michigan universities,” Silverthorn said.
“It comes to a point where we’ve made so many cuts that we had to look at increasing revenues.”
Gilmer did say in an interview Monday that Michigan universities would be seeing a 1.5 percent increase in their funding for the next fiscal year, but this has not yet been confirmed.
CMU is not the only university raising fees for the coming school year.
Northern Michigan University faced an 8.8 percent raise in tuition from the last school year to the current one and another increase seems likely.
Cindy Paavola, director of communications for NMU, said the university is facing a $2 million shortfall for the next year, regardless of the budget.
“If we get a continuation budget and we have a 3 percent growth in enrollment, the tuition increase would be in the 3 to 5 percent range,” Paavola said.
“Without a 3 percent growth, the tuition increase will definitely be higher.”
Michigan Technological University also could be affected by budget cuts.
Tuition at MTU increased 20 percent in the past year and if funding is cut, tuition could go even higher.
Bill Curnow, executive director of public relations for MTU, said a tuition increase is to be expected.
“There will definitely be a tuition increase this year because all indications are that the state’s budget will be flat at best,” Curnow said.
Funding for public universities has increased 54.1 percent over the past decade, outpacing inflation, which has increased 22.5 percent according to the office of the Lt. Gov.
However, undergraduate resident tuition has increased an average of 80 percent over the same period.
The state’s universities and scholarship programs were appropriated a gross total of $1.9 billion for the 2001-02 fiscal year.
Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus has called for action to limit the tuition increases across the state.
“With the outrageous tuition increases we have seen over the past few months, the time is now to implement aggressive and innovative protections to ensure college remains affordable for Michigan’s working families,” Posthumus said.
In an open letter to Gov. John Engler and legislative leaders, Posthumus called for the Legislature to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment capping tuition increases at the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is less.
Posthumus also called for a provision to penalize universities that raise tuition over the amount of inflation by reducing that university’s state funding by the amount in excess of the inflation rate.
“Michigan needs a system of funding higher education that not only rewards the universities that act responsibly, but also punishes those that don’t,” Posthumus said.
“In recent months, everyone has been forced to tighten their financial belts. Universities should be no different.”
Sources say Engler might be taking this advice to heart.
In exchange for a promise that universities will not raise their tuition more than 8 percent for the next school year, Engler reportedly will propose a continuation of the past year’s budget.
This could be preferable to universities who might otherwise face a rumored cut in appropriations of 3 percent to 5 percent.
Kelly Chesney, director of communications for the Budget Office, said that keeping levels of funding at last year’s level would be a struggle.
“They’d be very lucky if they receive the same level of revenues, because it’s very, very tight,” Chesney said.
“At most, they would get last year’s levels.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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