Jordan Shearer | Staff Writer | 11-9-2011
The school presidents work with MnSCU in order to determine the tuition levels that fit those specific circumstances. King said that “Every president is operating in their own environment.”
The presidents are allowed to propose an amount based on their schools’ needs. For example, Moorhead has to think of its tuition in terms of competition with other schools such as Concordia. Whereas, Southwest State is in a location where it does not have as much going on around it.
Once the amounts have been proposed, they have to be approved by the MnSCU board of trustees. Although this makes it appear that MnSCU holds a lot of power over the tuition prices of the schools, the recommendations made by the presidents are taken highly into account. Because of this, tuition prices are, essentially, made by the schools themselves.
According to Bill Maki, Vice President for Finance and Administration at BSU, even though MnSCU does not determine tuition rates, they do put a maximum cap on how much a school can raise tuition in a single year. He said that “some colleges and universities have raised their tuition right up to the cap and others have raised it less than the cap.”
The fact that BSU has the highest tuition is the result of a decision made by M. James Bensen who served as BSU president from 1994 to 2001. Bensen approached the MnSCU board and asked them to allow BSU tuition to be raised to fund several things such as technology investments and better quality within the classroom. The board of trustees approved this request. Therefore, in 2001, tuition jumped 17.5 percent in comparison to an average increase of 10 percent by the other universities. Ever since then, BSU tuition increases have risen in proportion to the other universities.
Charlie Woodson, Co-President of Student Senate, offered another reason for the high tuition at BSU. He stated that the sheer remoteness of Bemidji is a contributing factor. For instance, sometimes it is hard to find teachers who are willing to move up to Bemidji. Also, bringing up equipment and supplies is sometimes harder than it would be at other locations.
An important aspect about Bemidji’s tuition is that it is the same whether or not a student is a Minnesota resident. This is in contrast to many other universities where tuition is higher for students who come from out of state to attend school. The fact that residents and non-residents pay the same amount would seem to increase the average price for everybody.
Maki does not believe this is true, however. Rather, he said that the reason BSU made this decision was to keep prices down. It was made in the spirit of competition since several other Minnesota universities such as Crookston, Southwest, and Moorhead already had equal rates for residents and out-of-state students. BSU feared it would lose students if it did not do the same. “BSU made this change as an enrollment management strategy because if we had less students supporting our fixed costs than it would certainly raise the price long-term for all students,” Maki stated.
Although Bemidji has been going through major changes due to the budget cuts, tuition, surprisingly, has not taken a giant leap. It has risen 4 percent since last year. This is consistent with other recent tuition increases.
Will high tuition contribute to students transferring out of BSU in favor of a cheaper school, especially in a fragile economy? Woodson did not think this was much of a factor. “I don’t think tuition is why students leave BSU,” he said.
He went on to say that students are already paying many thousands of dollars for an education, so one or two thousand dollars extra does not make that much of a difference. Also, the benefits of Bemidji seem to balance out the costs. Bemidji offers a location and an environment that are not available at many other schools. So, even though students end up paying slightly more for tuition, their money is not wasted.