Regents approve new University of Minnesota budget, including tuition freeze for some

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents approved a tuition freeze for resident undergraduate students Friday, the first time in a generation.

The freeze, a fulfilled promise from University President Eric Kaler to state legislators in exchange for increased funding, will hold tuition steady for the next two years for in-state students.

But with the freeze comes increased tuition by 3 percent for non-residents and graduates. Some professional students, like first-year law students, will see tuition rise by 9 percent.

The Board also approved Kaler’s capital improvement plans and heard a presentation by Huron Consulting Group, who was hired to study the University’s administrative spending and recommend ways to increase efficiency.

Operating Budget

In addition to the tuition freeze, Kaler’s 2014 operating budget — which passed with only one dissenting vote Friday — students will also see increased students services fees, including an increase specifically for international students, according to Julie Tonneson, associate vice president for budget and finance.

“This is really a fee designed to provide additional services to help these students be successful academically, so it would be for things like advising or tutoring.”

The large professional program increases are what caused Regent Laura Brod to vote against Kaler’s budget, noting she didn’t agree with the high tuition and high financial aid model the large increases create.

“I feel like we shouldn’t have a Kelly Blue Book for tuition,” she said. “We should know what [tuition] costs and … have students know what the cost is to them.”

Resident undergraduate student tuition will stay the same as last year at $12,060, a point of pride for Kaler in his budget.

“The hallmark of this budget is our commitment to affordability and access for Minnesota resident undergraduate students,” he said.

The 3 percent tuition increase for non-resident undergraduate students will equal a $1,000 jump next year.

Kaler’s budget also sets aside funding for mental health resources at Boynton Health Services next year, which has seen a 9 percent uptick in counseling service requests in the past decade, according to Ferdinand Schlapper, Boynton Health Services director.

Currently, 27 percent of University of Minnesota students have been diagnosed with at least one mental health issue in their lifetime, Schlapper said, adding some students face a two-week waiting period after making appointments at the clinic.

 “If they have a two-week wait for a series of mental health issues, that may be the end of their academic career,” he said.

Regents chair Linda Cohen said she’d like to see preventative measures taken on the issue, including educating freshmen on resources during orientation.

Capital Improvement

The Board voted unanimously Friday to adopt Kaler’s capital improvement plans, which will fund the last of four biomedical facility projects on the Minneapolis campus, allow construction on Northrop Memorial Auditorium to move forward and serve as an outline for the University’s legislative bonding requests next year.

The final biomedical facility project will receive $63 million in the coming year, bringing funding for the four-building area near TCF Bank Stadium, known as the Biomedical Discovery District, to nearly $300 million dollars.

An additional $2 million will be allocated to finish construction on Northrop next year, which Pam Wheelock, vice president for University services said will be used for graduation ceremonies in the future.

Students will also see the completion of the new recreational center and residence hall on 17th Avenue in the coming year.

The recreational facility funding accounts for 75 percent of a $95 student services fee increase that all students will see next year, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, University vice president and chief financial officer.

Huron Study

The Board of Regents also heard an overview of a 175-page study conducted by Huron Consulting Group Friday.

The 12-week study by Huron Consulting Group was prompted in light of legislative concerns after a Wall Street Journal article criticized the University’s administrative spending in January.

The study outlined multiple opportunities for improvement, but also noted the University, “is already undertaking major initiatives to promote efficiency and effectiveness and to reduce administrative costs.”

One of the main improvement areas the study pointed to is reporting structures between departments, saying the University — like many public research universities — operates as collection of departments, rather than a “unified enterprise.”

The report acknowledged administrative reporting structure changes the University has made to date but said the, “full benefits of improving alignment and reducing duplication have not yet been achieved.”

Throughout the report, Huron Consulting suggested the University work towards consolidating certain internal processes, use new metrics to measure performance and need, and automate forms that are currently done via paper — like invoices and reimbursements.

One way the University is already tackling these initiatives is through an $83.5 million Enterprise Systems Upgrade Program. The Board heard an update on the progress of the ESUP Friday before Huron Consulting presented its findings.

The executive oversight committee who gave the ESUP presentation Friday said the upgrade is cost-effective and needed for long-term savings.

Regent Abdul Omari noted that nearly 40 percent of the ESUP’s budget goes to CedarCrestone, Inc., an Atlanta-based consulting firm.

“In my eyes, that seems like a very large number,” he said.

The Huron report concluded that overall, the University does not stand out among its peers for administration spending in the four key areas. However, it also noted much of the data received from peer schools was incomplete or estimated.

In March, the University received the results of a smaller study by New York-based Sibson Consulting, which determined the University’s ratio of managers to employees was low in some areas, but on par in others.

Between the two studies, the University has paid more than $540,000 in analyzing administrative spending.

Sibson Consulting will continue an extended study for the University later this year, according to a University press release.

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