A proposal to raise tuition for in-state students got a chilly reception from some members of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents on Thursday, with some calling for more efforts to rein in costs.
President Eric Kaler has recommended a 3 percent, or $376, increase for Minnesota undergraduates on the Twin Cities campus, which would boost tuition to $12,922 this fall. Kaler said the increase is needed because state funding fell short of his request this year.
But several regents signaled their discomfort with the idea of raising costs for Minnesota students.
"I'm just very concerned about doing everything we can to control tuition increases," said Ken Powell, one of the newest regents, at a special meeting Thursday to review the president's plan. Powell, who is chairman of General Mills, noted that the inflation rate is closer to 1.5 percent. "I'm very uneasy about tuition increases that would be more than the rate of inflation in the community," he said.
Steve Sviggum, a former House speaker turned regent, said he was "a little less than impressed" by the president's budget, noting that some university salaries are higher than those in state government. "The pedestal we put ourselves on in higher education, it's a little wrong," he said. He said he would recommend trying to save money instead by "cutting our head count" by 1 percent, which he said could be done through attrition.
Chairman Dean Johnson said the pushback, particularly from new members, reflects some of the concerns raised by state legislators and the general public. "The culture and flavor of the board has shifted," he said. While Johnson declined to predict how the entire board may vote, he added: "I suspect there will be compromise."
Kaler announced Thursday that he plans to freeze salaries for himself and 14 other senior leaders for one year. His budget proposal calls for a 2 percent raise for other faculty and staff.
It also calls for cutting administration by some $10 million as part of a six-year plan to save $90 million in administrative costs by 2019.
But Kaler said the tuition hikes would help close the budget gap left when state lawmakers rejected nearly two-thirds of the university's request for $147 million in extra funding this spring. The Legislature approved $54.6 million in new funding.
Regent Linda Cohen defended Kaler's proposal, noting that the university has kept tuition hikes to an average of 1.4 percent over the past five years. "I think that's really remarkable," she said. She said Kaler has kept his promise to protect both "accessibility and excellence" at the university.
Patricia Simmons, another regent, warned that continued cuts could threaten the university's standing. "We have to be very careful we don't compromise the mission," she said. "And we reach a point where we would."
At the same time, Regent Thomas Anderson said he, too, would like to see more attention on the university's expenses. "I think there's a new vision on this board, and on the campuses, about containing our costs," he said. "And that's not so bad."
The board is scheduled to set the tuition rate at a special meeting June 20 when it votes on next year's budget.