Public Colleges Weigh Tuition Hikes

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Across the nation, cash-strapped public colleges and universities are considering steep increases in student tuition and fees, among other measures, to make up for losses in state revenue.

In Georgia, public university officials will meet this week in a special session to discuss cost-cutting measures. In Idaho, the presidents of the state’s public universities are laying the groundwork to request tuition or fee increases higher than the 10 percent allowed each year by the State Board of Education. And in Nebraska, the president of the University of Nebraska has put the university's campuses on notice to make spending cuts.

Georgia's Board of Regents will be asked to approve 8 percent budget reductions for the current fiscal year and will vote on slashing college budgets, increasing health care costs to employees and hiking student fees. That’s up from the 6 percent cuts the board already OK’d at the request of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s budget office.

The Regents will also vote on reducing employer contributions to health care plans from 75 percent to 70 percent. And students may have to pay a temporary fee of up to $100 to help fill the budget hole.

Spending Cuts Loom

In Nebraska, the president of the University of Nebraska, J. B. Milliken, is urging the university’s campuses to cut spending to soften the blow of the ailing economy on the university’s upcoming two-year budget cycle.

On Monday, Milliken sent faculty and staff an e-mail warning that budget cuts were possible, and NU must use the rest of the fiscal year to prepare for more difficult times.

Milliken and the four NU chancellors met on Monday to talk about budget strategies. Milliken says they didn’t reach a specific goal on how much to cut spending. But, he says, they agreed to work together to free up funds in the current budgets to help the university get through the next fiscal year.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, the presidents of the state’s public universities say that a change in the Board policy that bars universities from requesting tuition increases for full-time students of more than 10 percent will allow them to generate more revenue, if necessary, to help offset ongoing state budget cuts imposed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

On Monday, Otter ordered state agencies to cut another 3 percent in spending due to lagging state tax revenue. It follows a 1 percent holdback imposed in September.

The request is being sought by the state’s three public universities, as well as Lewis-Clark State College and Eastern Idaho Technical College.

Private Colleges Feel Pinch

Even independent schools are feeling the strain of an economy in recession. At the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, president Rev. John Jenkins sent a message to faculty, students and staff telling them the school is being affected by hard economic times and must take steps to save money.

“I ask our academic and administrative leaders to do more with existing resources in order to reduce expenditures,” Jenkins wrote on Monday. “We need to identify and implement all reasonable operating efficiencies. I have also asked our budget office to develop contingency plans in the event that economic conditions worsen.”

Jenkins wrote that the university’s endowment has been hit by the economic downturn, although he said not as severely as the average experienced by other universities. He also said the university cannot guarantee there won’t be any changes to its work force, although it doesn’t expect any such changes.

He said deans are being asked to identify potential savings and the school was seeking other ways to cut costs so the school can focus on its “strategic priorities.” “In these and other ways, we can together increase efficiency, minimize extraneous spending, and prepare Notre Dame for yet unforeseen developments,” he wrote.

Notre Dame’s budget woes could determine the future of its football coach Charlie Weis who has been under a cloud after a series of losses by the Fighting Irish.

Jenkins’ message, which was e-mailed to students, came amid media reports saying it would cost the university anywhere from $4.5 million to more than $20 million to buy out the final seven years Weis has left on the 10-year contract he signed midway through his first season as coach.

Vol. 28

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