UND mulls three new tuition model options

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The University of North Dakota is considering changing the tuition model as soon as the fall of 2016, according to documents obtained by the Grand Forks newspaper.


GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The University of North Dakota is considering changing the tuition model as soon as the fall of 2016, according to documents obtained by the Grand Forks newspaper.

Two of three options laid out in draft proposals suggest tuition increases of either 10.5 percent or 12.3 percent over this year for students enrolling in 15 credits.

But officials said this is the answer to initiatives laid out by the State Board of Higher Education for better retention and four-year graduation rates, as the plans save students money if they graduate on time.

Most college courses are worth three credits each. Currently, students take 12 credits per semester to be considered full time and are charged a flat tuition rate for taking more than that, up to 21 credits and excluding online courses.

In the draft proposal document, three different tuition increase options are laid out, two of which would decrease the charge per credit hour but increase when the flat rate kicks in to 15 credits and lower the cap to 18.


That cap change causes the drastic increase in overall price.

"From what we've seen the proposed hikes in tuition are absurd," UND Student Body President Tanner Franklin said. "In the end they'll place an unnecessary burden on UND students and I completely understand where the State Board of Higher Education is coming from and the institution in that their goal is to increase four-year graduation rates but it should not be coming at such a high price tag to students."

The third option would lock in a set tuition rate for a student for four years, but the dollar figures involved in that plan are listed as "to be determined" on the documents.

Vice President for Finance and Operations Alice Brekke said the options are still being worked on and feedback has been gathered from university chairpersons, deans and a student focus group.

"The whole equation is intended to be revenue neutral to the institution," she said. "This is not designed to generate more revenue to the institution. This is designed to incentivize certain kinds of things and to enable movement in what the board has determined is an important strategic direction."

The document also states the university is considering upping the number of credits required to be full time to 15, which wouldn't impact the federal financial aid definition of full time of 12 credit enrollment.

"Those are all items under discussion," Brekke said.

The plans are merely preliminary and the school has to wait until the North Dakota legislative session progresses further, as several bills are on the table that could affect higher education tuition.


One of them is House Bill 1303, the most current version of which would give the legislative assembly the power to charge tuition and fees subject to statutory limits.

Franklin said he and other Student Senate representatives plan to meet with lawmakers to discuss the draft proposals.

"We're seeing potentially one of the largest hikes in recent years and saying four-year graduation rates might increase shouldn't be an excuse," he said.


The math

The total average per credit cost for fiscal year 2014 was $275.95, excluding mandatory fees. Therefore, North Dakota resident students pay $3,311 for enrolling in 12 credits or more until the cap of 21 credits.

The draft options outlined in the document roll online courses into the same scale as opposed to charging for them separately.

The first proposal would charge $248 per credit, meaning students would pay $3,720 for taking between 15 and 18 credits each semester.


"Essentially you determine a per credit rate and whether you're a part time student or up to 15 credits, students will pay the same rate of course varying by residency," Brekke said.

The second proposal has a sliding scale charging $260 per credit for students enrolled in six or fewer credits, $255 per credit for students enrolled in seven to 14 credits and $244 per credit for students enrolled in 15 to 18 credits, seemingly creating an incentive for students to enroll in more courses and therefore graduate faster.

"They're just different ways of distributing how the tuition gets paid," Brekke said.

An average of 23 percent of the freshmen classes of 2001 to 2010 graduated within four years, which is equivalent to eight semesters.

"There will be students for whom the right choice is something lower than 15, what it recognizes though is for most undergraduate programs, if your goal is to graduate in four years, you have to take 15 credits if you're going to go fall and spring," Brekke said.

With a goal of 120 credits over four years, the first option would be cheaper for students over time and run them $29,760 over the course of eight semesters as opposed to the current model charging $33,110 for 10 semesters.

But Franklin said that doesn't account for students who change majors or decide to double major in two fields; students would pay $37,200 -- or $4,090 more -- if they attended for 10 semesters under option one, as most currently do.

The second option has similar results; it's cheaper over time if students stick to a four-year enrollment plan but ends up costing $3,490 more than the current tuition model if students stay at UND for an extra year.


And barring a Legislative tuition freeze, rates have historically increased each year.

"I don't want to generalize but a lot of students, they look at what they paying semester by semester or year by year," Franklin said. "They're not thinking, 'Well, if I take 15 credits, I've got a higher potential to graduate in four years and maybe it'll save me a couple thousand bucks."


Meeting goals

Brekke said these options are in line with the North Dakota University System's recently published strategic plan, but that conversations about the school's tuition model have been going on for at least five years.

But she also said the third option's locked in four-year rate does not have any dollar figures listed because officials simply haven't had time to calculate them yet.

"The bottling of this stuff takes time," Brekke said. "You have to think through all the moving parts and make sure you've got accurate numbers associated with the moving parts and when you change some of the variables, we just haven't gotten that far."

The SBHE approved a revised tuition model plan in June 2014 that started out as former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's Pathways to Student Success plan, which aimed to raise admission standards to increase graduation and retention rates.


The NDUS implementation goal for tuition models at all 11 institutions is 2018, but Brekke said it's important to start addressing these changes early.

"You're always a year plus or more ahead of when you're actually going to make the change," she said. "Although it sounds like it's way out there, it really isn't."

Brekke also said "there are a lot of moving parts" and that any feedback, whether positive or negative, would be included in the packet ultimately presented to the SBHE for approval.

This comes after officials removed an agenda item from a SBHE meeting last spring stating the Student Senate supported an average tuition increase of 4.2 percent across all 11 institutions the board oversees when they had in fact not been consulted. The board eventually approved an average tuition increase of 3.2 percent at the March 27, 2014, meeting. UND tuition increased 3.7 percent, just like it did the year before.

Moving forward with whatever decision is ultimately made, Brekke said communication would be critical, "but step one is defining what we're going to do."

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