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Midyear College Tuition Hikes Raising Eyebrows

January 13, 2002|LIZ SIDOTI | ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Students at some public universities are finding bigger bills awaiting them after winter break: Their schools took the rare step of raising tuition in midyear to offset state funding cuts.

For Jason Roudebush, a senior at Kent State University, that will mean shelling out an extra $138 and working more at the campus ice arena where he drives the Zamboni, cleans locker rooms and fixes bleachers.

"In the beginning of the year, I just kind of expected to pay more," said Roudebush, 23, who pays for school through loans and income from his maintenance job. "But when they jacked it up in the middle of the year, it was surprising. I didn't plan for it."

Last summer, schools throughout the country approved tuition increases for the entire academic year in anticipation of state budget cuts. Public, four-year institutions increased tuition by an average of 7.7%.

Midyear increases last occurred in the early 1990s and generally are a last resort after schools have trimmed departmental programs, limited travel and frozen hiring, said Travis Reindl, director of state policy for the American Assn. of State Colleges and Universities.

"Sometimes you can't just nip and tuck on the edges to remedy $1 billion shortfalls in state budgets," Reindl said. "Tuition is an escape valve for lawmakers. It's a user charge and people are going to pay it because they're used to paying it."

Five of Ohio's 13 public, four-year universities--Kent State, the University of Akron, the University of Cincinnati, Cleveland State University and Youngstown State University--increased tuition as much as 6% for this semester. Schools in Missouri, South Carolina and Massachusetts also are raising the cost of attending school.

The Ohio increases came after Gov. Robert A. Taft and state lawmakers cut higher education funding by 6%, or $121 million, to help balance a $1.5-billion state budget deficit.

Ohio schools had already raised tuition last summer for the entire academic year by an average of 7.1%. The new hikes came on top of those increases.

At least four Missouri universities also raised tuition for this semester because the higher education budget was cut 10%, or $95 million. In-state undergraduates at Southwest Missouri State University, which lost $4 million in state aid, will pay about $90 more this semester, or $1,755.

In South Carolina, at least three schools that already had increased tuition more than 5% for the academic year raised tuition again for this semester by about 4%.

The University of Massachusetts also increased tuition, but the 7.8% increase is the first this academic year.

Students at four Massachusetts state campuses must pay an average of $366 dollars more this semester to help make up half the $19 million the university lost in state funding. The increase will take effect at a fifth campus next fall.

"Despite the increase, UMass is still a bargain," said university spokesman John Hoey in Amherst, Mass. "We've done everything possible to hold the line on costs for the past six years, so our costs still are not as high as other universities."

The midyear increases hurt low-income, minority and first-generation college students who already were scraping by to pay last summer's increases, said Corye Barbour, legislative director for the United States Student Assn., a national coalition of student governments.

"The students who can will pay, the students who can't will drop out," Barbour said.

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