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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Regents refuse tuition increase

032814_regentsmeeting_dh
By Di Linh Hoang / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM President Robert Frank, second from left, and the Board of Regents hold a meeting in the UNM Student Union Building’s Ballroom C on Friday afternoon to discuss the possibility of raising tuition costs. The Board of Regents approved a zero percent increase in undergraduate tuition and student fees for the next school year

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UNM’s Board of Regents on Friday approved a zero-percent increase in undergraduate tuition and student fees for the next school year.

The regents passed the motion unanimously at a meeting in the Student Union Building that afternoon.

Board of Regents President Jack Fortner said he feels satisfied with the result of the vote. He said the board addressed students’ concerns effectively by not raising tuition and fees for fiscal year 2015.

“The students all semester have been saying zero-percent increase, and they’ve actually been saying it for a year,” he said. “We listened to them. It was a tough decision, but it’s our way of showing that the priorities are the students.”

Regent Gene Gallegos said the board voted the increase to help students avoid the national trend of increasing student debt.

“I think that was something that everybody was onboard with,” he said. “We wanted to keep the costs down because the cost for college education is just out of control. So much debt is being built up, so we want to make it affordable.”

Associated Students of the University of New Mexico President Isaac Romero said he is glad to see the regents vote against a tuition increase.

“We worked hard with the (Student Fee Review Board) to make sure our students are taken care of fairly,” Romero said. “The students don’t have to worry about anything — certainly undergraduates — for sure.”

But students in some of UNM’s schools will see an increase in their tuition, as the regents passed each school’s differential tuition requests. Differential tuition costs are added to the general per credit hour tuition costs at UNM. These are implemented by every UNM program.

Undergraduates at the Anderson School of Management, for example, will now face a differential tuition of $10 per credit hour, according to a document distributed at the meeting. Anderson graduate students’ differential tuition will also increase by $10, from $173.70 to $183.70 per credit hour for New Mexico residents, and from $180.10 to $190.10 for out-of-state students.

According to the document, graduate students at the School of Architecture and Planning will face a $24.88 per credit hour increase in differential tuition, which brought the amount from $49.75 to $74.63 per credit hour. Graduate students at the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences will now also see a differential tuition of $150 per credit hour.

Differential tuition complaints

At the meeting, about 10 University community members raised placards in a silent protest against any tuition increase, including differential tuition increases.

But Fortner said differential tuition increases are “a necessary evil.”

Gallegos said the differential tuition would not take a toll on graduate students at all: he said students in these departments would have their degrees pay for their student debts in the future.

“In schools like the Anderson and the School of Architecture, it’s more costly to deliver education,” he said. “And those people have the benefit of being much more employable anyway. Still, if you look at peer institutions, we’re below the costs of most other schools.”

Graduate and Professional Student Association President Priscila Poliana said that as a student at the school of architecture, the differential tuition increases would affect her personally. But she said that after looking at both sides of the argument, she thinks the regents’ decision is a good compromise.

“I am from a department that does charge a differential tuition … and I do see that there are needs in the department that need to be met,” she said. “At the same time, I see that what students really need is to be able to predict how much their tuition is going to be at least for a year.”

The regents also approved a 4.6 percent tuition increase for resident students and a 4.9 percent increase for non-resident students at UNM Los Alamos. Tuition and fees in other UNM branches will stay the same.

Compensation increases

Despite no tuition and fee increases, the regents also decided to increase compensation for faculty members by 3 percent. Staff members will have a 2 percent increase in compensation next fiscal year.

Board of Regents Vice President Conrad James said that although there will be no additional funds brought in by tuition and fee increases, UNM should look at possible ways to find money for compensation increases.

“I think we can look at efficiencies,” he said. “Some of the strategic initiatives that we’ve laid out in terms of trying to move the University forward might have to just be delayed … I think our faculty has suffered for quite some time, and if we have to sacrifice our future investments to keep our strong faculty and staff here, I think we should do that.”

James said UNM should prioritize to take care of its current employees before hiring new ones.

“We certainly need to take care of our own faculty before we start thinking about hiring,” he said. “Obviously, we want to grow and expand our programs, but I do think that’s one area we want to look at.”

Fortner said the University will work on a plan that lists specific potential sources of money for the compensation increases, such as money from UNM’s reserves. He said the zero-percent tuition increase will not prevent the compensation increases from happening.

“It’s not good to pit tuition for students against faculty increase,” he said. “They don’t go hand-in-hand. What we’re saying is ‘show us your priorities.’ Find the money.”