Signs point to NU tuition hike -
Published Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 12:00 am / Updated at 3:34 am
Signs point to NU tuition hike

LINCOLN — University of Nebraska students might be advised to clock as many hours as possible at their summer jobs this year.

Another tuition increase is on the horizon for 2012-13, judging from information the NU budget director provided Friday to the Board of Regents.

That's not exactly breaking news. NU has raised tuition by amounts ranging from 4 percent to 15 percent each year for the past 12 years. The regents' stated policy is to keep tuition increases “moderate”; it defines moderate as 6 percent or less.

Budget Director Chris Kabourek made at least four key points signaling that a tuition hike may well be included in the 2012-13 budget proposal, to be unveiled around June 1:

Tuition at NU is a bargain compared with its peer institutions. For example, 2011-12 in-state tuition and fees for undergraduates at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was $7,563, compared with $9,664 at the 10 institutions the regents routinely use for comparisons. Tuition and fees at the Kearney and Omaha campuses, as well as at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, also are significantly lower than their peer institutions.

Most of those peer institutions are considering tuition hikes ranging from 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent, though financially strapped institutions in Colorado are thinking of going even higher — perhaps to 8 percent.

NU campuses continue to lag their peer institutions on salaries for faculty and administrators — bad news in the war to woo the nation's top researchers and teachers to Nebraska. At the med center, faculty members are paid 92.4 percent of what they would receive at comparable institutions elsewhere. UNL faculty members are paid 93.7 percent of the average of their peers.

NU will receive $498 million from the state in 2012-13, an increase of less than 1 percent from last year. That means any spending increase will figuratively have to come out of students' pockets in the form of tuition hikes. Tuition makes up about 30 percent of the budget, so even a minor spending increase would result in a proportionately bigger tuition increase. According to Kabourek, if the regents agree to a 3 percent spending increase, that would boomerang into a tuition increase of at least 8 percent.

Judging from some of the comments at Friday's meeting, the NU governing board is not eager to raise tuition next year — at least not without assurances that students are getting some help in paying their bills.

Regent Jim McClurg of Lincoln said he wanted more information on how much of NU's “sticker price” actually comes out of students' pockets and how much is provided by scholarships and federal student aid.

Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons noted that even if faculty salaries are lower than at other institutions, Nebraska may remain more attractive because of its lower cost of living. Regent Howard Hawks of Omaha agreed, saying, “Once you hit 90 percent, you're in the ballpark.”

Kabourek made one more point about the state of NU's budget. State funding has not kept pace with inflation during the past 12 years, even though enrollment has grown from 45,000 to 50,000 students, he said. As a result, NU implemented about $74 million in what Kabourek calls budget reallocations — not cuts, per se, but the elimination of some jobs and programs to make way for growth in other years.

The board is scheduled to take up the budget at its June 8 meeting.

Contact the writer:

LINCOLN -- Tuition at the University of Nebraska's three undergraduate campuses remains below average compared to similar institutions, NU Budget Director Chris Kabourek said during a budget briefing to the Board of Regents Friday.

Most of those comparable institutions are contemplating tuition increases in the range of 3.5 to 5 percent next year, he added.

Kabourek briefed the board on NU's faculty salaries, tuition rates, state support and possible spending increases in advance of NU administrators presenting next year's budget proposal at the regents' next meeting in June.

He noted that faculty salaries at the NU Medical Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln remain lower than those offered at comparable institutions: UNL faculty salaries are at 94 percent of the average of their peers and Medical Center salaries are at 92 percent.

The Legislature has increased NU's state support next year by a fraction of a percent, to $498 million.
Kabourek, however, warned that increasing spending when the Legislature has not increased state support would force up tuition.

A 3 percent spending increase -- whether to improve faculty salaries or to keep pace with inflation -- could result in tuition increases of 8 percent or more.

He emphasized that he gave the example only for illustration. NU policy is to keep tuition increases "moderate" -- 6 percent or less.

Contact the writer: Leslie Reed    |   402-473-9581    |  

Leslie covers higher education issues and events affecting Nebraska college students and their families.

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