July 19, 2011/The Mining Journal
The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees voted last week to increase tuition by 6.99 percent for the 2011-2012 academic year. While we're sorry to see the cost of higher education continue to inflate, we're glad the hike wasn't even more severe.
The tuition increase will mean resident undergrads will pay an additional $550 this year, increasing the annual total to $8,414.04.
We can sympathize with the plight of today's students, summarized by Justin Brugman, president of the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University. He said the tution hike would be a tough pill to swallow.
"Tuition increases are hard, especially for those that are struggling to pay their tuition bill every semester," Brugman said. "However, I understand where the board is coming from. (NMU?President Les) Wong and the board really do have the students' best interest in mind, but the state legislators are not giving them a good situation to deal with."
Brugman's comments point the finger at a grim reality: public support for universities is getting harder and harder to come by. The university board made the tuition move - apparently with some reluctance - because they were left with few other options in the face of declining support from the state.
The university will receive roughly $38.4 million in state appropriations next year. In 2002, that amount was $51 million - a dramatic dropoff over an eight-year timespan.
Board trustee Stephen Adamini sounded a dire note prior to a Finance Committee meeting last week, saying he was convinced he and other NMU board members were unwillingly participating "in the destruction or abandonment of public education at the university level, drip by drip."
If university officials are to be believed, the tuition increase was mitigated by aggressive cost-cutting measures, including a reduction in capital equipment and student labor costs, a limit on travel and supplies and a shift to a three-year lease in the university's widely touted laptop program. Indeed, the university's expenditures per credit hour offered may actually be going down as NMU pares down costs.
But, going forward, NMU's tuition will continue to be forced upward by pressure from inflation, a possible 1 percent decrease in enrollment and a 15 percent slash to statewide university funding. As long as state support continues to decline, the university will look to tuition to keep the school in the black.
We'd like to think state spending on higher education will rebound. But that's not a realistic hope until Michigan's economy rebounds. So, to avoid continued tuition increases - which slowly but inevitably will price a university education out of reach for many students - NMU must get even more creative and aggressive with cutting costs.