Southeast increase in tuition up before regents

Friday, December 13, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University students could return from Christmas break next month to another tuition increase, the third in less than a year.

The board of regents today will vote on a school administration plan to impose another surcharge for the spring and summer semesters that could increase tuition for graduate and undergraduate students by anywhere from $1 to $8 a credit hour, depending on state funding cuts. The regents will meet at 11 a.m. in the University Center Ballroom.

The regents raised tuition by a school-record $17 a credit hour for in-state undergraduates and $20.50 for in-state graduate students in April. The regents also raised tuition for out-of-state students by $25 a credit hour for undergraduates and $30 a credit hour for graduate students.

Faced with additional state funding cuts, the regents in June levied a surcharge on all graduate and undergraduate students of $6 per credit hour.

School officials say they don't want to play Scrooge, but they have little choice in the face of further expected state budget cuts this fiscal year because of a shortfall in state revenue.

Dr. Ken Dobbins, university president, said Thursday he expects Missouri Gov. Bob Holden to announce additional withholdings before the end of the year. Dobbins predicted Southeast could face 5 to 10 percent cuts in its current state funding, amounting to $2 million to $4.1 million.

"It is not if, it's when and how much," Dobbins said.

Dobbins said he won't ask the regents to put the entire burden on the backs of students. But he said students would have to share the financial pain.

School officials devised the latest budget-balancing plan earlier this week.

Under the plan, the university would first use $1 million -- raised largely from a surcharge of $6 per credit hour imposed earlier this year -- and $750,000 in added revenue from this school year's increased enrollment to make up any new funding shortfalls.

If funding cuts total more than $1.75 million, the university would make up the remaining shortfall from a tuition surcharge, the school's rainy day fund and more spending cuts. Those three areas would each account for a third of the needed dollars, Dobbins said.

Measures to save money would also have to be taken. The university, he said, wouldn't be able to buy some new equipment or upgrade computers, wouldn't be able to perform all maintenance work on campus buildings and possibly would extend hiring freezes.

The plan would allow the university to address state funding cuts without having to hold another regents meeting later this month, Dobbins said.

Southeast in-state undergraduate students already pay $140.50 a credit hour in tuition and general fees. An $8-a-credit-hour increase would raise that amount to $148.50 a credit hour.

In-state students taking 15 credit hours of classes in the spring semester would pay over $2,230 in tuition and general fees. Out-of-state undergraduates would have to spend nearly $3,800 next semester or $252 a credit hour.

In-state graduate students would pay more than $172 a credit hour. Out-of-state graduate students would pay $297 a credit hour. For a graduate student taking a full load of nine credit hours, the cost would range from $1,553 for Missouri residents to $2,673 for out-of- state residents.

Ross McFerron, Student Government president, said the latest fee proposal came too late in the semester to be brought before student representatives. Students spent this week taking final exams prior to leaving for Christmas vacation.

"It is really unfortunate," said McFerron of a possible new surcharge. Added to fee increases from earlier this year that totaled the largest increase in school history, students could be saddled with paying $31 more a credit hour than they did last spring, he said.

Still, McFerron, who serves on the university's budget review committee, said the university has little choice as long as the state continues to cut funding. The committee has given its blessing to the budget plan.

McFerron said ultimately the state needs to shoulder more of the cost of educating students. "We have to sell higher education as an investment, not just as an expense," he said.

Christa Millham of Jackson, a senior education major who will graduate in May, said even another surcharge won't keep students from enrolling at Southeast. "It is not too much," said Millham, whose parents pay for her schooling.

"I don't think people are going to leave," she said.

The university notified students in December billing statements that another surcharge might be imposed. If so, it would be included in the January bills and students would have two months to pay without receiving a late fee, Dobbins said.

335-6611, extension 123

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