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Central Michigan University on Thursday became the first university to set tuition for 2020-21 amid widespread uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic — and recommended no increase for current, returning and future students. 

"Tuition is one of the most important symbols of a university in taking a stand of how they will support families, support students in ensuring they having the opportunity to move forward with their academic pursuits," CMU President Robert Davies said during a wide-ranging interview afterward with media.

Keeping tuition the samemeans that costs for CMU students will not increase from $12,510, the current annual tuition for resident undergraduates taking less than 56 credits annually.

The decision was made during a CMU board meeting where officials outlined how they have coped with the impact of the global pandemic essentially shutting down the university and its plans for the future.

Provost Mary Schutten said the university is planning several scenarios for students to return to campus in the fall amid concerns about COVID-19. Among them are a semester that begins with online instruction, then finishes with face-to-face classes; starts a few weeks delayed; returns to face-to-face instruction for the entire semester, or classes that are held online for the entire semester.

The university will follow the leadership of the state, Schutten said. 

"We've outlined situations that most universities are thinking about or talking about," the president added.

Tuition rate changes are typically decided by universities in June. But Central Michigan has been setting tuition early for years.

The decision comes before the state appropriation has been determined for public universities, and state budget officials have projected billions of dollars in shortfall in this year’s and next year’s budgets.

There are a lot of unknowns, the president said.

"But there are a lot more unknowns for our families, our students," he said.

Davies declined to speculate on how the budget challenges might affect the livelihoods of faculty and other CMU staff. When asked to justify the tuition freeze, he said it was a moral decision. 

"This is the right thing to do for Michigan, it's right thing to do for our students and for our community," Davies said. "Our goal is to ensure individuals can proceed along their academic routes."

This is the first time in years that CMU has frozen tuition. Davies said it might put a strain on the university, but it will allow students to pursue their passions and in the long run, everyone will come out better.

Asked how the university would be able to sustain such a move when enrollment has already been a struggle for the Mount Pleasant school, Davies said the university has a "very strong balance sheet."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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