What Kaler told University of Minnesota alumni about rising tuition

For the second question in University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler’s statewide conference call with alumni yesterday evening, “Darryl” in Cannon Falls asked about tuition:

“I am concerned. When I went to the U back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and my wife too, tuition was about $128-$135 a quarter. We both worked our way through school without our parents’ help. And nowadays, with the high price of tuition, I don’t think that’s possible for a person to do that. And my concern is really for my grandkids. My son was able to get through there with some military help. But the tuition is out of sight. And it’s (supposed to be?) a public institution. And it should allow for people to work their way through. Anyway, is something being done about the high cost of tuition?”

Kaler responded:

“Well, I worry about that as much as you do. We need to keep the ‘public’ in public higher education. And what you’ve seen over these years is a pretty dramatic shift — not so much the increase in the cost of education, but a dramatic shift in who pays for it. When you were a student here, the state of Minnesota partnered with you and invested with you in your future.

Over the past few years — about five years since 2008, the state of Minnesota has cut funding to the university at a higher rate than any other state in the Big Ten with the exception of Michigan. Right now, we have the fourth-highest tuition of the 11 public schools in Minnesota, but we’re working on this as hard as we can. Last year, my budget had a 3.5 percent increase in tuition, which was the lowest in 12 years. This year, the leading feature of the budget request I’m making in the state is to help us partner to freeze tuition for the next two years. That requires the state to reinvest in this institution, recognizing that they’ve taken $140 million out of our appropriation in the past five years.

(I’m) really trying to get that investment back and understand the burden that tuition is causing for our students and their families, the fact that it drives the student debt now. The average student who graduates with debt from the university is about $27,000 in debt. But a third of our students graduate with no debt at all.

So to me, it’s really a conversation with the state of Minnesota about the value of public higher education and helping us make it as affordable as possible.”