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University of Utah trustees on Tuesday approved a tuition increase of up to 5.9 percent for next school year, a hike that would cost a full-time, in-state student another $438 a year.
The extra tuition money will pay for faculty and staff salary and benefit increases, more academic advisers and campus maintenance, said Cathy Anderson, associate vice president for budget and planning.
Junior Alexis Santoyo said the bump up to $7,895 a year for 15 credit hours, from $7,457 this year will make finishing college more difficult.
"For me, a tuition increase just means I would have to cut down on how many classes I'm taking," said the 22-year-old, who is paying primarily out of pocket. She estimates that the extra money will put her behind by up to a year.
"It's ridiculous how much tuition has actually gone up since I started back in 2009," said the political science and communication double major. "I don't think higher education should ever be limited to the elite, only those people who have the money to attend. It's called public education for a reason."
U. trustees approved the increase Tuesday with one vote against, from vice chair Michele Mattsson.
President David Pershing pointed out that the U. has the lowest tuition this year in the Pac-12, a group of schools he said are "turning out to be our real peers." He acknowledged, though, that the U. has many students holding down a job to pay for classes.
"Our students are working their way through, therefore it is important that we are able to keep our tuition relatively modest," he said.
Trustee David Huntsman asked whether low tuition is always a positive.
"Sometimes when you're at the bottom of a list there's a negative consequence, the perception that our education ... isn't as valuable as others; you get what you pay for," he said. "The fact that we're so low, does that hurt us?"
Pershing said if that perception exists, it can be countered with the U.'s higher academic rankings.
The U. is significantly expanding the number of scholarships it will offer next year. About 1,300 more students will get some financial help based on both merit and need. Funded by donations, many of the scholarships award between $1,000 and $2,000 annually, though most are for incoming freshman rather than current students.
Anderson said U. officials are "trying to keep this as affordable as possible. We understand any increase is a challenge for students, so we've been working very hard to try to pair it with scholarships to offset the cost of tuition."
The Legislature could still affect next year's tuition increase at the U. Before the end of the session Thursday, lawmakers will decide how much of a raise they will give state employees, including higher education employees, next year. Institutions pay for part of those costs from tuition dollars.
Also a factor in the final increase is the Utah Board of Regents, which will set a standard across-the-board increase for all Utah public colleges and universities at their meeting later this month.
As it stands now, the U. tuition increase will pay for:
• More student academic advisers and other support services (31 percent)
• Raises and benefit cost increases for faculty and staff (25 percent)
• Faculty excellence and retention, or additional raises and facility upgrades to keep in-demand faculty (29 percent)
• Campus maintenance and upgrades (15 percent), an amount that Pershing said is trending upward as the legislature funds less of operation and maintenance costs and more of the burden is passed to students.
"It's just the reality of the world we live in," Pershing said.
Fees will go up by $60 a semester in January to pay for a new Student Life Center, an increase approved by students.
Student body president Sam Ortiz told the trustees he thinks most students "understand, maybe not wholeheartedly support ... the reality of tuition increases," if they have a better understanding of what the extra money is for.
"We really do get a great quality education and experience here," he said.
The University of Utah will offer about 1,300 more scholarships next school year. They will include 400 Utah Promise scholarships, which pay $2,000 annually for academically qualified low-income students, and more than 500 Trustees Scholarships, which pay $1,000 to $2,000 a year for students with high ACT scores.