Students know how to live on a tight budget. They’re worried the University of Minnesota doesn’t.
The public was invited to respond on Friday to President Eric Kaler’s proposed tuition increase, which, if approved by the Board of Regents, would push the undergraduate price to $12,546 a year for Minnesota residents and $22,700 for nonresidents.
About 20,000 in-state undergraduates would see no hike, officials say, thanks to the university’s Promise Scholarship program. Kaler proposes the scholarship cover the increase for state residents with family incomes up to $120,000 a year.
A public forum on the proposed 2016-17 budget drew a crowd of about 50 people. Union representatives advocated for better practices, professors thanked the regents for reallocating money to their college, but most responses came from students making a link between the high cost of tuition and mental health. Many speakers wore pink ribbons in support of mental health awareness.
“The university has blood on its hands,” said Katie Hannestad, an undergraduate student, who said she feels guilty she didn’t have the “resources or training” to support a friend in crisis, and angry that the university didn’t either.
The budget allocates about $97,000 to increase student mental health services on the Twin Cities campus, funding new staff at Boynton Health Service. Students say that’s not enough.
Martin Branyon, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, condemned the board for holding a public forum during finals week.
“The planned tuition hikes are nothing but exploitation and abuse of the student body. It is a slap in the face to students who work hard to afford education,” Branyon said. “This is in itself an affront to the very nature of this university as a public university.”
At the regents meeting before the forum, Regent Darrin Rosha opposed the 2.5 percent increase for residents and 10 percent increase for out-of-state students at the Twin Cities campus.
“If we go with increases that are above inflation — and this is above inflation — we lose the moral authority to say we want to keep the cost of higher education down so people can have access,” Rosha said.
However, Regent Richard Beeson, chair of the finance committee, said that net average tuition is actually down and that Kaler’s proposed budget reflects the goals of maintaining “access, affordability and academic excellence” for all students.
“This is a massive undertaking, and this is probably as complicated a budget as exists in the state of Minnesota,” Beeson said. “I think the proposal is well balanced.”
At the public forum, Rahsaan Mahadeo, a Ph.D. student, brought a diploma, tuition bill and death certificate before the board.
“Life or debt is just a few letters short of life or death,” Mahadeo said. “Your tuition hikes are hiking on our backs and stomping many of us out of higher education.”
Zoë Peterson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.