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Regents ask tough questions of Carlson 'surcharge'

Posted by: Jenna Ross Updated: February 10, 2012 - 4:44 PM

A proposal to charge Carlson School of Management undergraduates $2,000 a year more than their classmates got decision-makers' tough questions -- but mostly their support -- in a meeting Thursday.

That so-called "surcharge," if passed, would be phased in over several years. The resulting $4.9 million in new revenue would be spent mostly on faculty.

Carlson's interim dean, Sri Zaheer, described to a U Board of Regents committee Thursday the reasons she believes the so-called tuition surcharge is necessary to compete with peer business schools.

By adding faculty, the school would be able to bring down class sizes and make sure students are taught more often by tenure or tenure-track faculty, rather than temporary instructors.

"We do an extremely efficient job in the Carlson School," she said, referencing larger-than-average class sizes. "Is that the best job? I don't think so. I think we could do better."

Regent John Frobenius said that he was disappointed in the lack of data used to support the proposal. That proposal, he said, only has "a statement that says, if admissions go up, we have to raise the price for students."

"And that is not a compelling reason in my head."

Regent Steve Sviggum told the group that he supports the proposal but worries about some of the surcharge's revenue going toward scholarships for low-income students. "I do have this concern about redistribution -- raising tuition rates for all, spreading across to some," he said. "Shouldn't that be done through private philanthropy?"

U President Eric Kaler said he's "very comfortable with this $5 million going to hire faculty for Carlson, which they need to do, and then we will address financial aid as an institution."

Regent Venora Hung asked whether the faculty hired with the new revenue would be required to spend a certain percentage of their time teaching undergraduates.

"As a student... I would know that all that money is going to be used for faculty... who teach undergraduates more?" she said.

Zaheer said that split would not be strict. She noted that right now, undergraduates contribute about a third of the school's tuition revenue but make up about half of the student body. Even with the surcharge, undergraduate tuition will still not cover all the cost of educating undergraduates.

Should the proposal pass, Zaheer said that undergraduates will start seeing class sizes shrink as soon as next year.

The majority of 70 Carlson students polled by the Minnesota Daily in an "informal survey" oppose the tuition surcharge. According to an article in the student newspaper today:

In an informal survey of more than 70 students taken by the Minnesota Daily, 76 percent of surveyed Carlson School undergraduates knew of the potential surcharge. Of those who were aware of the hike, about 80 percent described their opinion of the change as unfavorable.

“I can understand that they would [add the surcharge],” Carlson School freshman Jason Lahr said. “But it’s never nice to pay more for the same service.”

However, Lahr, along with almost all of surveyed students who had heard of the surcharge, said they would still have chosen to come to Carlson School had the surcharge always been in place.

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