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University trustees won’t ease up on tuition increases

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Trustees for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system turned back a push this week by student groups to roll back planned tuition increases for next year.

The trustees set a 3.9 percent tuition and fee increase for 2007-2008 for the more than 30 schools in the system, which works out to an average of $146. They did not commit to a smaller tuition hike for 2008-2009, but MnSCU administrators said they’d come back with proposals next January to hold the tuition increase below 3 percent.

The proposed rate reductions would have saved students at two-year colleges up to $63 a year and as much as $29 a year for students in four-year universities.

Justin McMartin, who heads the student association for the four-year MnSCU schools, said those figures might not sound like much, but would have made a difference for many students.

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"I know several students who work full-time jobs, live in apartments with three other guys — a one-bedroom apartment — and eat ramen noodles every day. Now give that student $26 or $50 and it has a lot greater impact," McMartin said.

The money would have come from taking $6 million out of funds earmarked for improving campus technology systems. But system administrators worried that would delay needed improvements in software, computers and network connections.

Under the budget approved by the board, 22 of MnSCU’s 32 colleges and universities will charge the same tuition for resident and nonresident students. The increases will boost the average tuition to $5,399 per year for a full-time four-year university student and $4,001 for a full-time two-year college student.

The MnSCU system serves more than 135,000 enrolled students and more than 100,000 people earning credits part-time. Tuition in the system’s four-year institutions is close to the national average. But the two-year schools rank among the top three most expensive in the nation.

That fact influenced the debate, but in the end the trustees opted to get more information before shifting money toward lower tuition. The board asked MnSCU staff to explore the effect a tuition increase of 2 percent or less at the two-year colleges and 3 percent or less at the four-year universities would have in the next academic year, and to report back in January.

"I prefer to do that rather than shooting in the dark as we’re doing today," trustee Cheryl Dixon said.

The action comes less than two weeks after the separate University of Minnesota system approved a budget that uses state incentives to keep student cost increases below 2 percent for most students.

The MnSCU trustees also granted a 12-month contract extension to Chancellor James McCormick. His contract will now run through July 31, 2011. His annual salary will be $340,000, same as this year, and he’ll be eligible for a performance bonus of up to $25,000.

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