Wyckoff's testimony on behalf of higher ed

It's that time when universities get on their knees and beg the state for continuing support (hey, isn't that all the time?), and my colleague Pete Wyckoff gave some testimony at the Minnesota capitol the other day. It's good stuff that summarizes the financial dilemma students are facing everywhere as tuition climbs and the government cuts back.

Testimony for the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, 1/31/07

My name is Pete Wyckoff and I am an associate professor of biology.

I represent the University of Minnesota, Morris, a special campus that seeks to replicate the education offered by our best private colleges, but at public school prices. Between 1/3 and ½ of the students attending Morris are first generation college students. We have the highest minority student enrollment of any U of M campus, mostly owing to a tuition waiver offered to qualified Native American students.

At the University of Minnesota, Morris, we provide a great undergraduate education. Classes are small, and every class is taught by a professor we don't have teaching assistants. My primary job is to teach undergraduates, and I love it. I know my students by name. I know their stories. I give them heck if they slack off. If you listen to public radio, I'm sure you have heard our sponsored clip bragging that Morris is one of the top five public liberal arts schools in the nation. The bragging is warranted.

Fewer than half of our students come from the Twin Cities. The bulk of our students come from out state Minnesota, with a fraction from other states and countries. Eight percent of our students grew up on farms.

The students we serve at the University of Minnesota, Morris have great financial need. As a measure of that need, over a quarter of our students receive federal Pell grants, the highest of the four campuses, and far higher than our typical Minnesota private college peer. Pell money doesn't go as far is it used to, however: 10 years ago a Pell grant covered 69% of University of Minnesota, Morris tuition. Today it covers 49%.

Over the past five years, tuition at the University of Minnesota rose 57%. This rise was not set by our campus, but was a system-wide decision. Comprehensive costs (tuition, room and board, and fees) for attending the University of Minnesota, Morris rose 53% over the same period and currently stand at $16,848 per year.

How have students dealt with rising cost? They have accumulated debt.

Our students at U of M Morris accumulate debt at a greater pace than at the U of M Twin Cities, but graduate with lower average indebtedness because we tend to get them done in 4 years. 2006 graduates left Morris with an average of $22,000 in debts, and ¾ of the students had debt. That last number is higher than the other U of M campuses because our students come from lower income families. Another way to look at the same numbers: for our students who take on debt, the average debt accumulation is almost $30,000.

Over the past five years, the amounts of Federal and State loans available to and taken by the typical University of Minnesota, Morris student haven't really changed. What have changed are private loans. For the 2001-2002 school year, the fifteen hundred plus Morris students taking loans took out a cumulative grand total of $35,000 in private loans. For the 2005-2006 school year, the fifteen hundred plus Morris students taking loans took out a grand total of $2.4 million in private loans.

Besides taking loans, our students are working more off campus. On campus jobs are harder to come by, mostly because of a drop in state work study money. From discussions with students and colleagues, I can tell you that many of our students are forced to work so many hours that their grades and progress suffer.

Despite our tuition increases, money is tight at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Since I arrived at the Morris 6 years ago, my biology classes have been getting bigger, but my course and lab budgets have been getting smaller. I make do, but at some point the quality of my classes will start to decline.

Why is money tight? One big driver is the cost of health care. Another is the decline in the percentage of our costs covered by state aid. We are not living extravagantly at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and I don't feel that we waste either the taxpayer's money or our student's money. Costs go up. The price goes up. Money gets tight.

As much as I worry about the debt incurred by the students who attend Morris, I am more worried about the students who don't even show up. As I mentioned, we serve a lot of first generation college students, and for many in that group, the sticker price keeps them from even applying. We don't even get a chance to try to make it work for them.

I teach two weeks each summer in a program for high school students. Two summers ago my best student came from out state Minnesota, the daughter of two non-college educated parents. She really wanted to come to Morris and complete our pre-medical curriculum, but the sticker price made her parents push her away from Morris. Now she is at a MNSCU school that is, I'm sure, great on many levels, but which is not a place that can get her to medical school. At the University of Minnesota, Morris, however, we can and do put out state and non-wealthy Minnesota students into medical school. Three of four Morris students with better than a B average who apply to medical school get in. Those numbers compare well with the top Minnesota private colleges, and the privates cost thousands more than Morris.

I don't feel that Minnesota can afford to let the price of its University slip out of reach for talented students of modest means. I thank you for your time and would be glad to answer any questions.

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Articulate, not overly verbose, and beautifully put. I wish more money went towards education and less to f%^&ing over Iraq. It's a crying shame.

There can't be enough discussion about this. It is amoral - and antithetical - to an open society, to price education out of peoples' hands. I need to go back to school but have considered NOT doing so based on the cost, especially if I move and then attend. Out-of-state tuitions are absurdly high, as much as 5x the cost of residency tuition in some cases. That's highway robbery if you ask me. Why are out-of-state rates even needed (really, tell me; I have no idea what the logic is supposed to be)? Who cares if a student was in state X and is now in state Y, if they have to be in state Y to attend the school of their choice?

By BlueIndependent (not verified) on 02 Feb 2007 #permalink

The University I attend, Rutgers, had similar issues with the budget this past year, tuition going up about $1,000, various staff/programs being cut, buses becoming so packed that it takes almost 2 hours to get a bus with a seat to go between campuses, students getting assigned to hotel rooms instead of dorms because of runaway admissions, etc. etc. etc. There's plenty of money for the football team, redesigning the liberal arts campus, and figuring out how to make our logo more spiffy, but not enough to actually take care of the students. The worst part: most students complain but don't want to get off their butts and do anything, raising hell when the football team was actually winning for the 1st time since anyone can remember but sitting idly while change after change is made by the administration that no one wants. It may seem trivial, but I go to the campus formerly known as Cook College (named for George H. Cook) but under a new management "integration plan" the name of the school has been changed to "The School of Ecological and Biological Sciences," essentially throwing away the history of college and not listening to the protests and students and faculty who don't want the change. Ugh. Anyway, that's my pissed-off rant about how much I hate my own choice of higher education for the day, thank you for enduring it.

I really don't see why all of you percieve a problem. Money should go where it's most needed. We're definitely getting our money's worth out of what we use on the war in Iraq (what is it now - $2 billion per week, or some such figure?), since we have now taken the war to the terrorists. Compare this with the proposition of a generous $1.2 billion over five years to do research on (aka "fight") malaria. Furthermore, we don't need to dump further resources (money from the taxpayers!) into simply producing more pointy-headed intellectuals, which is the aim of a college education. You people need to become more patriotic.

That's all for now.

Why are out-of-state rates even needed (really, tell me; I have no idea what the logic is supposed to be)? Who cares if a student was in state X and is now in state Y, if they have to be in state Y to attend the school of their choice?

A student who grew up in state Y comes from a family who (presumably) funded the University of Y with their taxes; a student who grew up in state X does not. It's understandable that the latter would be expected to pay a bit more to compensate for borrowing their neighbors' educational machinery, though 5x as much is pretty bizarre.

A related but more cynical reason might be that out-of-state tuition fees are about the only thing you can hike without pissing off the people electing the state government to which you answer.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 02 Feb 2007 #permalink

Mr. Bonzo at BigU in ColdState salutes the people at Morris who do a wonderful job running our best undergraduate public institution. He also shares their concern about the cost of education for our students.

Although more state support would certainly be helpful, the administration at BigU will have to, in the long run, accept some of the blame. Perhaps the ambitious aspiration of being one of the top three public research universities "in the world" is not a realistic one for ColdState? Perhaps we should concentrate on what we do best - educate students? One of the reasons that tuition is now so high in ColdState public universities is the game of chicken that is often played by the administration of our university system. It goes like this. U: Please sir we need X$. Legislature/governor: we think you need X$/2. U: well, I guess we will have to raise tuition...

I hope the game of chicken will end soon, one way or the other.

Ciao!

It's worse here in Ohio than in most of the other states. The state universities have such high tuition and so little financial aid that typical middle-class students graduate on average with more debt than graduates of many good private colleges in the state. That makes the state university system a total scam for ordinary folks- only the rich folks make out, because their kids still get a big tuition discount compared to paying full freight at a private school. And the rest of us get to see our tax dollars going toward this nice subsidy for the rich. Isn't that special?

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 03 Feb 2007 #permalink

BI sed...

"It is amoral - and antithetical - to an open society, to price education out of peoples' hands."

I wouldn't call it either "amoral" or "antithetical"... I'd just call it "suicidal".

BlueIndependent: The argument (similar to the in province/out of province thing here) is supposedly due to the general tax money universities receive.

IMO, tuition should be free for pure research areas and loaned-with-payment-due-with-employment for professional areas. (Problem with boundary cases like CS arise, of course.)

IMO, tuition should be

No, it should not be. It should not exist.

(Newsflash: there are countries where it doesn't, and there are others where it's much lower than probably anywhere in the USA and actually a tax on intellectuals, collected by the state, not by the university.)

Allowing people to study is an investment for a country: they'll land high-paying jobs, and then they'll pay way more than the cost of their education in taxes. The more people study, the better for the public finances. It's an investment.

Ooh, socialism. Scary. Flee!

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 03 Feb 2007 #permalink

I agree entirely with David Marjanović: education is a country's investment in its own future. Here in Denmark, not only is university education free, but on top of that students are also subsidised so that most can get through their education without incurring debt. Anyone with the motivation and intellectual capacity can get a university education. Guess what most of our prime money making areas are. Yep: research, exporting know-how etc.

Again I must agree with David Marjanović when he mocks the American attitude towards this kind of 'commie subversion'. Decision makers as well as the American public should open their eyes and see that, like public health care, it just makes good economical sense.

Martin

By Martin Christensen (not verified) on 03 Feb 2007 #permalink

I agree with David and Martin. I'm am also curious about why tuition in the USA has been going up faster than most everything other than health care for the last, what, 15 years.

A couple years ago I did a cursory look over the finances of the business school I'm attending.

What I found interesting was that money for capital expenditures has been increasing. That is, private donations to the school to be used for facilities. However, operating funds for the school have been falling, which means the actual day-to-day cash flow which pays for the heat, water, electricity, maintenance, salaries, etc., has been decreasing.

One means to counter this has been a raise in tuition.

I've talked to one budgeting person who said that there was no way to transer funds from a capital account to an operating account. I'm not certain I completely understand why, I'm not an accountant. But one of these days I'm going to make an effort to find out.

David Marjanović: You'll notice that I said free for a lot of students, and certainly free during the time of study. I'd probably index those loans to family background, etc. too. (Ultimately, though, I agree with completely free. I always have trouble deciding on whether mentioning in-the-limit policies or immanent ones.)

Here, there simply have been proportional cuts in "public" support for education. Of course the public really doesn't like this policy ...

IMO, tuition should be

No, it should not be. It should not exist.

(Newsflash: there are countries where it doesn't, and there are others where it's much lower than probably anywhere in the USA and actually a tax on intellectuals, collected by the state, not by the university.)

Allowing people to study is an investment for a country: they'll land high-paying jobs, and then they'll pay way more than the cost of their education in taxes. The more people study, the better for the public finances. It's an investment.

Ooh, socialism. Scary. Flee!

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 03 Feb 2007 #permalink