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EMU privatizes food service, hikes tuition 4.1%

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti — Changes are coming to Eastern Michigan University with an array of new food vendors such as Starbucks, Zingerman’s and Einstein Brothers Bagels —and possibly more students from outside Michigan and Ohio.

The Board of Regents on Tuesday approved a controversial 10-year agreement with Chartwells Higher Education that will privatize the university’s food service as it offers more options in residential, retail and catering food services on campus.

Regents also approved a 4.1 percent increase in tuition for 2016-17 while dangling an incentive for out-of-state residents: Starting this fall, all new students will pay the in-state rate.

That means tuition will cost $12,120 next year for in-state students and newly enrolled out-of-state students. Out-of-state tuition costs per credit hour are about three times as much as in-state.

University officials say less than 10 percent of EMU’s students are from outside Michigan and Ohio; for decades, residents of the Buckeye State have been able to attend EMU and pay in-state tuition rates.

As the number of high school students declines in Michigan and nationally, EMU officials hope offering in-state tuition to all students will boost the university’s enrollment, which includes about 17,780 undergraduates as of fall 2015.

“Time will tell,” said EMU Interim President Don Loppnow.

Of EMU’s undergraduate students, 1,012 are from Ohio and 921 are from other states or countries, meaning 5.4 percent pay out-of-state tuition.

Loppnow added that the new dining options are not aimed at competing with other universities.

“It will definitely enhance what we are currently offering,” Loppnow said. “It’s to better serve our students, staff and faculty.”

The privatization of EMU’s food service, which takes effect July 1, generated vocal opposition. Chartwells agreed to pay a $5 million signing bonus to EMU, along with $18 million in initial capital funds. The new food service will include more use of technology and food trucks, among other changes.

“Privatization is just wrong for our students,” said Howard Bunsis, president of the EMU-American Association of University Professors. “It’s going to be more expensive. They are going to pay more for lower quality food.”

EMU Regents Chairman Mike Morris countered that the board/meal plan rates are set by the board, not vendors. Also, current employees of EMU’s dining staff are to remain university employees.

“They are going to offer many other opportunities for eating,” Morris said. “At least five or six new options with different types of food will be available.”

Meanwhile, EMU’s move to offer a single tuition rate is similar to one taken last year by Lake Superior State University, which began offering a universal tuition rate last year to students, regardless of where they live.

At EMU, current students from outside Michigan and Ohio will continue to be charged the out-of-state rate but their tuition will not increase. EMU’s average out-of-state tuition rate is $27,711 a year for a full-time student.

Unlike a year ago, the regents did not exceed this year’s 4.2 percent tuition restraint cap set by the state Legislature.

Last year, EMU increased rates by 7.78 percent, exceeding the state’s tuition restraint cap of 3.2 percent for 2015-16. As a result, the university lost $1.05 million in state performance aid. It also faces a $400,000 penalty this year for exceeding the cap last year.

Oakland University also exceeded the state’s tuition cap last year and faces a $400,000 penalty this year, but did not surpass the cap this month when it increased tuition 3.95 percent for 2016-17.

Last week, Michigan State University and University of Michigan increased tuition 3.7 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Wayne State University will set tuition on Friday.

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com