University regents eye 7% tuition hike

Additional revenue would cover inflation, expanded nursing, engineering programs

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2006

ANCHORAGE - University of Alaska tuition regents will consider whether to use a tuition increase to help cover costs for low-income students.

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Regents are scheduled to vote Friday on a 7 percent tuition increase proposed by UA President Mark Hamilton. That's about $200 per year for an average full-time undergraduate. It would take effect in fall 2007.

Regents also will consider another 1 to 3 percent increase for financial aid based on need for low-income students. The additional increase could generate as much as $2.2 million.

"We really need to look at the overall question of affordability, and that takes into account a whole host of things, including financial aid and costs associated with room and board, books and fees," Hamilton said.

The $5 million generated by a 7 percent tuition increase would be targeted toward increased expense from inflation and expanded programs such as nursing, engineering and construction management, and psychology.

The university has increased tuition by 10 percent every year since 2003. Hamilton has proposed another 8 percent increase for fall 2008.

Justice Brooks, vice president of the UA Anchorage student body, has organized students to speak out against the proposals. Tacking need-based financial aid to a tuition jump is a way to sugarcoat an unpalatable hike in costs, he said.

"Need-based financial aid, it's great, but why are you making need-based financial aid a burden for students, including students that need financial aid?" Brooks said. "They're going to charge you to pay for your financial aid? It's backwards."

Money for grants should come from the state or private donors, he said.

UA tuition, which is about average for a western public university, covers less than 30 percent of what it costs to educate a student, according to Hamilton. The rest comes from government and private funds.

"If tuition covered our full costs, you'd see huge tuition increases," said UA spokeswoman Kate Ripley.

UA students need $5 million in aid every year, Ripley said.

"Earmarking a little bit of tuition revenue is just a part of the mix," she said. "We would like the state to step up too."

Low-income university students have two options for help with tuition: The state's Alaska Advantage Education Grant offers up to $2,000 per year and favors students in health sciences, teaching and social services. The university-run Tuition Assistance Grant offers $300 per semester.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an education policy think tank in California, gave Alaska an "F" earlier this month for failing to make higher education affordable.

"For every dollar the feds provide, Alaska is only giving those students 6 cents," said Joni Finney, vice president of organization.

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