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Oakland U hikes tuition 3.95%, under state cap

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills – The Oakland University Board of Trustees approved a 3.95 percent tuition increase for resident undergraduates in 2016-17, coming in under the legislative cap after breaking it last year.

The tuition increase means that undergraduate students would pay $15.25 more per credit hour, boosting tuition to $11,970 annually. Graduate school students will pay 3.93 percent more, for a total of $16,338. The new tuition rates are part of the university’s $263.5 million budget.

But the vote did not come without a spirited discussion about the continuing increase in tuition costs for students.

Annie Meinberg, OU student liaison, said financial aid is awarded to students who are presidential scholars, and also those who have financial need. But those in the middle, like her, are left out and pay the full price tuition and forcing students to get jobs and stay off campus.

“We are continuously increasing tuition every year,” Meiberg said. “But what’s it going to cost in 10 years? And how is it going to affect students like me?”

Students fill out a federal forms that determines how much they are expected to pay, based on their family’s income, and the formula is complicated, said James Lentini, OU provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

“We try to help every student meet what their need is,” Letini said. “About 75 percent of our students do get financial aid ...we contiually look at trying to increase the scholarship amounts that we are giving to all of our students across campus.”

Board Chair Mark Schlussel said tuition needs to be put in perspective: with the percentage of state appropriations to public universities’ budgets plummeting over the decades, universities only have two other sources to turn to for institutional support: donors and student tuition. Oakland University is a young institution, Schlussel said, so donors are not part of the DNA of its alumni like they are at older institutions such as the University of Michigan.

“We vote these increases with half a heart,” Schlussel said. “This board is not going to vote this with joy ... No one is happy about what we are doing (but) this is the only means we have available. We need your support ... this is the essential way to keep the viability of this university.”

Last year, Oakland University was one of two public universities that broke the tuition increase cap set by the Legislature. The school hiked tuition 8.48 percent when the cap was 3.2 percent. Doing so cost Oakland $1.2 million in incentive funding, but the tuition hike brought in $12 million to the university last year.

The trustees approved the 2016-17 tuition rates a week after a Republican-led House-Senate conference committee approved a budget agreement that would strip $400,000 apiece from OU and from Eastern Michigan University, both of which exceeded the legislature’s cap on tuition increases last year.

But the tuition rate was set as a response to lawmakers’ actions last week, said John Beaghan, OU vice president for finance and administration.

“We recommended it based on what our needs are to fund the budget,” Beaghan said.

EMU, which sets its 2016-17 tuition June 21, raised tuition 7.78 percent a year ago, forgoing $1.05 million in state performance aid. Eastern’s tuition is $10,439.

Both schools protested the new financial penalty lawmakers imposed last week.

The new penalties are the latest in a series of attempts to slow tuition increases.

The new budget deal, approved in committee and set for a vote in the House and Senate, includes a 4.2 percent tuition restraint cap, which was tightened to reflect revised inflation projections.

For the first time, universities that exceed the cap would be excluded from the capital outlay process, meaning they could not request funds for building projects during the 2017 fiscal year.

Oakland and Eastern would see overall funding increases in the 2017 budget despite the $400,000 penalties. Since OU is not surpassing the state’s tuition cap again, the school will receive a 3.2 percent boost, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

Jonathan Oosting contributed.