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University of Utah students on Tuesday quizzed administrators on rising tuition, faculty raises and the school's low rate of American Indian students.
As required by state law, school officials held an information session on the 3.5 percent bump in tuition for next year, which will add $7.5 million in school revenue.
That will largely pay for faculty raises and a push to graduate students faster, said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Ruth Watkins.
"The U. is a pretty lean institution," Watkins said. But she also acknowledged that rising tuition in recent years including last year's 6 percent uptick has taken a toll on students.
"Slowing that down to the extent we can and still maintaining quality is a pretty important thing to do," Watkins added.
About 50 undergraduates and master's students filled the room typically reserved for Hinckley Institute of Politics events.
Some students jotted notes and others munched on cookies provided by the Associated Students of the University of Utah.
Sarah Wheatley, a 22-year-old political science major, questioned why faculty raises were high on the U.'s wish list at the Legislature this year.
"Is there ever going to be a time when lowering tuition is a top priority for an institution?" Wheatley said.
Watkins said that U. salaries must stay competitive to attract top professors and researchers but if the state provides the money for salaries, the U. won't have to raise tuition for that purpose.
"As that money comes in from the state," Watkins said, "then we don't need to ask you to help with that."
Starting in fall, students' yearly bill will rise about $250. The current yearly cost is about $6,889, but can rise or fall depending on a student's credit load and major.
The uptick in revenue also will pay for more online classes and graduate research positions, said Cathy Anderson, the university's associate vice president of budget and planning.
The Board of Regents, which oversees Utah's eight public colleges, approved a system-wide increase of 3.06 percent in recent weeks down from 4 percent last year and the lowest average increase since 1999. The U. is the only school that adjusted the price tag further this year, tacking on an extra half percent.
More students attended Tuesday's meeting than a March hearing that drew only about 20 students, a university spokeswoman said.
And some on Tuesday asked broader questions about the state of the university.
Charles Alires, a sociology and mass communication major who is planning to graduate in fall, wondered aloud if officials seek to grow the number of American Indian students. Most recent enrollment figures available show that 125 Native American students attend the U. The number has dropped consistently from 2010, when it was 177, according to university figures.
Alires said that in terms of finances, he "barely survived the semester," and said there's a need for more scholarships for students from Ute and other tribal lands.
Watkins replied that the U. "has a number of efforts" geared toward American Indian students, including a conference this weekend for tribal leaders and a new scholarship for Ute students.
Still, she acknowledged, "we can do more."