University of Utah students brace for tuition hikes

Watch a multimedia slideshow about increasing tuition costs as the University of Utah.

Story and multimedia by SCOTT WISEMAN

The price of a college education is at a record high, causing troubles for students across the nation. While financial aid, scholarships and student loans are available to create some relief, many students are scraping together their last pennies to meet the required costs to attend college.

University of Utah students met financial struggles last year as the cost of attending school was at an all-time high. The same students will face yet another challenge as tuition will rise 7.8 percent starting in the summer semester of 2011, university officials announced earlier this month.

The increase determines that the average in-state undergraduate student taking 15 credit hours will expect to see an increase of $247 per semester. A 15 credit load for an out-of-state undergraduate will increase by $783 per semester.

“I really do not know how I’m going to come up with the extra money,” said Gunnar Lamb, an undecided freshman. “Being an out-of-state student is really starting to catch up with me financially.”

The tuition increase for next year is less than last year’s increase, which hit students for 9.5 percent.

“Of course, we do understand that in a tough economy, this is hard for students,” said David Pershing, senior vice president of academic affairs. “This is why we tried really hard to find a balance between maintaining the quality of the university and the tuition increase.”

Tuition at the U is divided into two different tiers. Tier one is the budget decided upon by the Board of Regents, while tier two is decided on by the University of Utah. The overall 7.8 percent increase is comprised of a 5 percent increase in tier one, and a 2.8 percent increase in tier two. The Board of Regents in St. George approved the final adjustments to the increases on March 27.

The Board of Regents originally approved a 7 percent reduction in state funding, but lowered that amount to 2.5 percent early last month, according to higheredutah.org. The tuition increase would have raised an additional 5 percent if the original reduction had been approved. The students have been asked to pay the amount out of pocket that the federal government decides to cut each year.

“State support for our colleges and universities has been steadily declining over recent years,” said Board of Regents chair David Jordan in an interview with higheredutah.org. “We need to reverse that trend so that all of our institutions remain affordable, particularly at the community college level. We can’t continue to cover increasing costs with tuition hikes.”

Students are turning to additional sources of funding such as grants, scholarships and loans to help make up the difference in prices.

“Although my tuition has been paid through scholarships, for friends who do have to pay out of pocket, that is a pretty high increase which would make a significance difference,” said Carla Gonzalez, a senior in behavioral science.

Currently, the U is funding is comprised of 47 percent tuition and 53 percent state funding, Pershing said. An increase in tuition will help bring a higher percentage of private funding to the U.

Tier two funding, the additional budget determined by the University of Utah, has been broken down by use. A majority— 56 percent— of tier two funding will be used to restore funding to academic departments, 18 percent given to student services, 13 percent for academic support and 13 percent given to other support areas such as utilities.

The overall increase in tuition has 32 percent of budget going to faculty retention, 29 percent for academic departments and 19 percent to staff health insurance. Only 5 percent of the overall increase will go to benefit academic support.

“Students clearly don’t look forward to the increases in tuition and fees, but most students seem to understand that we try to keep increases as small as we could,” Pershing said. “The U is a very cost effective place to attend school based on its quality.”

In the 2010 school year, the university’s resident undergraduate tuition and fees totaled $6,274. This is significantly lower when compared to the national average of $7,605. When compared to other public universities of similar rapport, the University of Utah fared well. Select schools such as Pennsylvania State University and the University of Illinois cost almost three times as much as Utah.

Chase Jardine, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah and a senior in economics and chemistry, said that while he believes that the increases may bring hardships to college students, they were necessary to prevent department closures and faculty layoffs.

“Of course the increase is unfortunate, but I was very impressed with the administration’s dedication to see it as low as possible,” Jardine said. “The 7.8 percent is as low as we possibly could increase given the economic severities we have.”

Pershing highlighted the fact that the University of Utah only can offer approximately $17,000 worth of core funding per student. Other top schools, such as the University of North Carolina provide almost $30,000 of core funding per each student. He stressed that in order for Utah to compete with the top schools in the nation, more core funding is needed.

Dominic Ford, a junior in geography said he doesn’t like tuition increases, but sometimes they are necessary. Increased funding for academic departments will be an improvement, Ford said.

“It’s better than last year’s increase,” Ford said. “I don’t know if I’m okay with it, but with budget cuts everywhere, there’s not much that we can do about it.”

Student fees are also increasing at 7.8 percent. Some of the increases will be represented by a $17 increase in a building fund and a $5 increase in the fine arts budget for an in-state undergraduate taking 15 credit hours. The only area with a cut budget is the utility fee, which is dropping $3 per semester.

“If the fees are going to impact the student in a better way, then I guess it is okay, but the part I don’t agree with is the increased health insurance for the faculty,” Gonzalez said. “If they want better insurance, they should pay for it out of pocket, not out of mine.“

These increases in budgets have already had impact on the university’s campus, as the Associated Students of the University of Utah announced this week that it will be able to increase its amount of funding for the next school year.

“I do not attend any on campus events hosted by ASUU, and I would like to see those budgets cut before I pay more tuition,” Lamb said. “The academic integrity of this school is the most important value, and tuition increases are only justifiable to improve academics.”

Cheston Newhall, a junior in business said while tuition increasing will be negative to many students on campus, he believes that increased funding will help to improve the quality of the university.

“They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do,” Newhall said. “Although it is unfortunate that we will all be paying more money as students, but at least we’re going to get something back out of it.”

Along with the increase in funding to help maintain key staff and faculty members, Newhall said that an increased budget to help with on campus events is important.

“Going out to events sponsored by ASUU on campus is a great way to get connected to the university,” Newhall said. “I feel as if the U would not be as strong of a community if the events budgets were cut.”

According to Pershing, in 2008, a high school graduate had mean earnings of $40,000 per year, while those who had their bachelor’s degree earned a mean of $70,000 per year. Even though the price of obtaining a bachelors degree is rising dramatically, students say those mean salaries show it is worth the initial sacrifice.

“All in all, the tuition increase is unfortunate, but ultimately necessary,” Gonzalez said. “I will continue to stick it out and get my degree as planned.”