Board Sets Fall Tuition; Jacobetti Future Discussed

 

Despite uncertainty about state funding, the NMU Board of Trustees set tuition rates at a special teleconference meeting this morning to give students and parents an opportunity to plan ahead for the fall semester.

 

In a 5-3 vote, trustees approved a recommendation to increase tuition and fees by 9.8 percent for full-time undergraduate students, and about 10 percent for full-time graduate students. Annual rates are as follows: resident undergraduates, $5,858; nonresident undergraduates, $9,602; resident graduate students, $4,754; and nonresident graduate students, $6,994. The one-time student athletic fee for new students, which allows admission to NMU sporting events, will increase from $100 to $150.

 

"To the best of our knowledge, as of today, Northern will remain the second most affordable institution in Michigan," said NMU President Les Wong . "Our commitment to providing a high-quality, high-touch education on a high-tech campus remains our number one goal. With proposals that would reduce Northern's state funding by anywhere from 2 to 10 percent, it's been extremely difficult to formulate a budget plan when we don't have solid numbers yet. We are taking a multi-pronged approach that considers enrollment growth, budget reductions and reallocations, and new streams of revenue generation. We will continue to monitor the legislative process and continue to discuss options accordingly."

 

The university's financial aid would be increased by $625,000 to offset some of the student need related to the tuition increase. Any new initiatives will be covered through budget reallocations. The administration will present a detailed FY2006 budget for approval at the board's next regularly scheduled meeting, Aug. 4-5.

 

"I can't emphasize enough the need to preserve the quality of Northern's programs," said trustee Jon G. LaSalle, in voting to approve the recommendation. "NMU undisputedly has placed itself in a comparative advantage in the state in terms of tuition. People look at us with that in mind, but if you listen to students, a driving force in their decision-making process is the value of the education how much academic quality they're getting for their investment. They get a high return at Northern, and I want to see that continue. It would be hard for the university to cut even more from its budget without adversely impacting the academic experience."

 

Board chair Karl Weber was among the three who voted against the recommendation.

"My one overriding concern is for the students and their families," he said. "I want an NMU education to remain as affordable and accessible as possible. I just think there are ways the university could tighten its belt even further by reducing costs, as painful as that may be."

 

Most other Michigan universities have set tuition recently, with increases ranging from 7.5 percent at Saginaw Valley to 18.5 percent at Wayne State the other school besides NMU targeted for a steeper decline in state funding in Republican-sponsored House and Senate proposals.

 

In developing their recommendation, NMU administrators assumed a 2006 state appropriation reduction of almost $900,000, which is what Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed in her executive budget. They also anticipated a net increase in general fund expenditures of $3.1 million. This covers rising costs associated with contracted compensation adjustments, mandated support for the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS), utilities and support for software maintenance and library acquisitions.

It also factors in base budget reductions of nearly $1.2 million. This includes a loss of 18 full-time equivalent positions. Department heads have been asked to communicate their respective budget adjustments to their employees. A university forum will be held early in the fall semester to give an overview of the plan.

 

If the decline in state support for this year exceeds the scenario used for planning purposes, NMU administrators have discussed an option for absorbing the loss on a quick turnaround for the current fiscal year. Carry-forward dollars will be moved into designated fund by departments and encumbered until further notice. Special exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis for requests brought to deans or department heads and then to their respective division leaders.

 

Administrators have also explored ways to reduce facility operation and maintenance costs. Mike Roy (Finance and Administration) said it's not an efficiency issue, but an effort to bring Northern more in line with the square-footage-per-student ratio of other universities. He and others met this week with union leaders and Jacobetti Center faculty and staff about the possibility of moving some community college programs to other existing buildings or to relevant off-campus locations. Examples of the latter would be aviation maintenance relocating to Sawyer, or hospitality management and culinary arts sharing facilities with dining services and university center operations.

 

"A logical scenario would be to vacate one wing of the building and rent out the space to recoup the operating costs and make Jacobetti a self-supporting facility," Roy said. "It's not likely that we would go the extreme route and move everything out and sell or rent the entire building. We are at the beginning of the discussion stage. We're also looking at alternatives for other buildings, including the Superior Dome. The bottom line is that we're not reducing programs we're trying to better utilize the space that we have so we can reduce our overall operation and maintenance costs."

 

The residence halls and University Center are not included in square-footage-per-FYES ratios because they are auxiliary operations and self supporting. Roy said there is a difference of 800,000 square feet between NMU and the next university down the list nearly two times the space of the Jacobetti Center and Superior Dome combined.

 

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Updated: October 26, 2005

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