University of Minnesota students won't have to budget for a tuition increase in the next academic year.

For the first time in years, the university will freeze tuition for most students at its five campuses. The Board of Regents on Tuesday unanimously approved President Joan Gabel's tuition freeze proposal, which administrators say will provide financial relief to current students and help lure in new students during the pandemic.

"The desire for certainty is at its highest levels in this environment of uncertainty," Gabel said. "The tuition freeze is for more than marketing to incoming freshman. It's a recognition of the challenge that students are facing."

The freeze will apply to all students except those enrolled in three professional programs: dentistry, the medical school and three professional masters in the College of Science and Engineering at the Twin Cities campus. Gabel cited high demand and educational expenses for exempting those programs.

Public universities across the country have shuttered their campuses and shifted all classes online for the spring and summer sessions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many institutions have issued room and board refunds to students and are weighing tuition freezes and reductions.

Early projections show the U could lose up to $315 million in revenue if the pandemic lasts through the fall semester. Officials have already cut pay for top administrators and have frozen hiring and salary increases.

The uncertainty could hurt fall enrollment, officials fear. That's partly why regents decided to vote on the tuition freeze proposal Tuesday even though it was originally only slated for review. Gabel told regents the freeze could help the U secure a larger freshman class before the school's May 1 commitment deadline.

Freshman enrollment for the coming fall semester is trending nearly 10% behind where it was at this time last year, said Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. As such, the university is ramping up its virtual recruiting efforts and pulling names from wait lists.

"This is a year where we are not worried about overbooking the flight," McMaster said, noting that "spring 2020 represents the most challenging year in recent enrollment history."

The tuition freeze will be the U's first since the 2014-2015 academic year. But that freeze only covered undergraduate resident tuition. The freeze for the coming school year will cover tuition rates for all students — undergraduates and graduates, residents and nonresidents, except for those enrolled in the professional programs.

Tuition reduction?

Some think the university could go even further. Several regents said Tuesday that the U should consider a tuition reduction.

Regent Michael Hsu said summer tuition should be cut because classes are only being offered online. He pointed to the University of Texas at Austin, which announced last week it would decrease summer tuition for undergraduates from 85% of normal semester costs to 50%.

Tuition should also be decreased in the fall if distance learning continues, Hsu said, noting that a price drop could help boost enrollment.

"There's a lot at stake," he said. "There's a lot of students who, they're not happy with online learning."

Tony Challeen, of Minneapolis, was caught off guard to learn his master's degree program in management of technology is exempt from the freeze. The cost of his degree, which he will start this fall, is $79,000.

"It's a bit unsettling to know that some U of M students may be getting some sort of a break but there are some programs [that] may not be qualifying for it," said Challeen, 28. "I hope they come to their senses."