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Officials at the City University of New York have proposed what is believed to be the nation's first tuition program that would provide a free final semester of education to graduating seniors.

Under the plan announced two weeks ago, the free semester is intended to serve as an incentive to students to complete their higher education.

It also is intended to offset the financial blow students will receive from massive tuition hikes for the 1992-93 academic year.

Tuition for full-time, continuing undergraduates will increase from $925 per semester to $1,100 per semester starting next year. Tuition for incoming freshmen will increase to $1,225 per semester.

Those students will be the first to get the opportunity to take advantage of the free-semester plan.

But they will also be paying the higher tuition amounts in the succeeding years.

CUNY officials say, however, that by coupling the increases with a free semester, they can reduce four-year education costs to below state-required levels.

The state government mandated in its fiscal year 1993 budget that ãõîù raise $53 million in revenues and trim expenditures by $40 million.

CUNY's tuition increases come on top of already devastating hikes during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 academic years.

Tuition rose from $625 per semester in the fall of 1990 to $725 for the spring semester of 1991. In the fall of 1991, tuition rose to $925 per semester.

The tuition plan must still be approved by the state legislature. Some opponents have already begun questioning the legality of the proposal.

Meanwhile, students protesting tuition policies held demonstrations last week at two prominent universities, one of which led to 253 arrests.

The arrests of the Brown University students last Wednesday took place after the students had occupied the campus administration building and held a day-long protest to demand that the school drop its policy of admitting students on the basis of their ability to pay.

The students said the current policy is biased against the poor and stands in the way of racial and cultural diversity.

The needs-blind admissions policy demanded by the students calls for the university to provide students who are admitted with the financial-aid they need to attend the school.

Administrators at the Providence, R.I., institution contend that the university cannot expand its $19.2-million financial-aid budget.

Students held a peaceful one-hour rally the day following the arrests, and a university spokesman said no further disturbances were expected.

At Rutgers University, the state-financed school in New Brunswick, N.J., about six students on April 22 occupied a building that houses the campus switchboard and were still there as of late last week.

The students were demanding a tuition freeze. They had controlled the university's switchboard for part of the day Wednesday, informing callers of their protest before transferring them, until the university was able to establish makeshift operations elsewhere on campus.

No arrests had been made as of late last week, despite a judge's order that the students, who handcuffed themselves together, leave the building.

Officials at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., on the other hand, think they have found a solution to rising tuition costs.

The school is offering lower tuition to those students who meet high academic achievement levels.

Students from the top 10 percent of their graduating high-school classes will pay one-half the amount of the institution's regular $12,500 tuition starting in academic year 1992-93. Students graduating in the second 10 percent will pay two-thirds of the normal tuition, while students in the third 10 percent will pay three-fourths.

Officials say that the plan is intended to make college more affordable, give students an incentive to succeed, and boost enrollment.

A spokesman for the college reports that paid deposits for enrollment are up by 40 percent and applications are up by 21 percent.

At the financially strapped University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Conn., trustees recently voted to pursue a merger with an organization affiliated with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

University officials say the Professors World Peace Academy, which receives the vast majority of its revenue from the Unification Church, has pledged to invest a minimum of $50 million, with a first-year contribution of $20 million, if a final agreement can be negotiated.

The P.W.P.A. plans to make the university its "flagship'' of a worldwide university network. A total of five institutions would be located in North America, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, the Near East, and the Far East.

Agreeing to negotiate a takeover by the church affiliate, the trustees sought to preserve the 65-year-old, private, nonsectarian university.

The school is at least $22 million in debt, enrollment has dropped from 3,800 in September 1991 to 2,500 in March 1992, 31 academic programs have been suspended, and it has been put on probation by an accrediting agency.--M.P.

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