The Oct. 23 Editorial Counterpoint by Regent Darrin Rosha (“Put priority on homegrown students, not out-of-staters”) offered a vision for the University of Minnesota that would move us backward, not forward. Rosha brings forth two central arguments: The university does not admit enough in-state students, and our affordable out-of-state tuition makes people perceive the U as a lower-quality institution. These arguments are not founded in reality.
Rosha’s commentary puts a singular focus on the Twin Cities campus and its proportion of in-state students. While the Twin Cities campus is the largest of the U’s five campuses, it does not represent the entirety of what the University of Minnesota is about. Campuses in Duluth, Morris, Crookston and Rochester serve the state in unique ways. Not every Minnesotan wants to live in the Twin Cities urban environment when they could instead enjoy daily views of Lake Superior in Duluth or hunt pheasant on the prairie near the Morris campus.
Systemwide, at least 7 in 10 undergraduate students are residents of Minnesota — a higher proportion than many of our Big Ten counterparts. The Twin Cities campus is made up of over 66 percent in-state students — more in-state students than many of the U’s peers. While there are some Big Ten schools that admit more in-state students, the University of Minnesota is in the middle of the pack.
Do we need nonresident students to come to the University of Minnesota for it to be a great university? No. Should we want some of the brightest students from across the nation and world to join us here in Minnesota? Yes! Minnesota only gets better when bringing in great students to help solve the challenges we face together.
Rosha’s second argument that the U’s relatively low nonresident tuition creates the illusion of a lower-value education is similarly unfounded. Following Rosha’s argument, if we raised our tuition to levels as high as the University of Michigan, which pushes $45,000, we would be perceived at the same academic level as Michigan. Perhaps Rosha has stumbled upon something here. We can test it out by raising prices steeply for Gophers football games and seeing how full TCF Bank Stadium gets.
Of course, this argument is hogwash. Prospective students look at academic quality, graduation rates and postgraduation outcomes to determine the merits of a school, not tuition. In fact, many private schools are starting to see the negative consequences of high sticker prices, even when coupled with more financial aid.
Where Rosha and I do agree is that in-state tuition should not be raised. Frankly, I believe the U should lower tuition for in-state students. While Minnesota students pay around $13,000 in in-state tuition, Wisconsin residents pay only around $10,000 to attend the University of Wisconsin.
However, I have serious reservations regarding the dramatic increase in nonresident tuition. President Eric Kaler’s plan will push nonresident, nonreciprocity tuition from the current $25,000 to over $28,000 next year. Additionally, if Kaler follows a similar plan that was proposed earlier this year, tuition for out-of-state students will rise another $9,000 over the following three years. We are inviting these students in only to take them to the bank for three consecutive years — that really isn’t the Minnesota way.
I urge the Board of Regents, President Kaler and the Legislature to think carefully about the impact of these increases and the message it sends to people from other states — that maybe Minnesota isn’t open for business.
William Dammann lives in Minneapolis.