By William P. Thompson
Tuition increases at universities throughout the nation have become an annual rite of passage for college students, and Eastern New Mexico University offers no exception. The university’s board of regents approved a measure Monday to raise undergraduate tuition by $72, graduate tuition by $81 and fees by $18 for the 2006-2007 school year.
ENMU President Steven Gamble said that despite the increases, ENMU consistently has the lowest in-state tuition among more than 70 similar institutions throughout New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma.
”We do everything we can to keep it (tuition) down,” Gamble said.
Gamble and some ENMU regents spoke of increases in utility costs as one of the factors contributing to a need to raise tuition.
“Our expenses are rising,” Gamble said. “Our forecasted utility bill for next year is up $350,000. Our medical quote is $275,000 higher for next year. Our property taxes are expected to be up $145,000 next year.”
The board of regents also approved increases in student housing rates of 4 to 6 percent for the 2006-2007 school year, depending on type of housing. There is no increase in board rates.
Stephanie McClary, ENMU housing director, sent a memorandum in March to Gary Musgrave, vice president of student affairs, outlining reasons behind the housing rate boost.
“Increases in housing rates will be necessary to offset increases in expenses such as salaries and utilities,” McClary stated in her memo. “I have no reason to anticipate a significant increase in our occupancy for the upcoming year.”
ENMU sophomore Anthony Lacy said he’s pretty much resigned to annual tuition hikes, and it’s not affecting his finances yet.
“I’ve got loans, so I’ll eventually have to pay it all back,” he said. “I won’t notice it (the increase) until I have to pay my loans.”
Sophomore Dakota Helphenstine said he wishes the administration would distribute a document to students explaining in simple terms where all their tuition money and student fees go and why tuition needs to go up.
“The (university) bookstore did that before. They showed us exactly why our textbooks cost so much. I just wish they (the administration) would explain to us why.”
Gamble said he will furnish details about where the tuition money will go at the next board of regents meeting, and he will also furnish a detailed list of university expenditures and how tuition money is spent to the student body president, Kori Totten.
Helphenstine said he hasn’t had to take out any loans yet, but every time the tuition goes up, it puts more financial stress upon him.
l In other board of regents news, Totten made a slide presentation explaining why the student fees board, which is comprised of students, was unhappy with large yearly increases in the amount of student fees going to “infrastructure.”
The board of regents voted Monday to put $631,000 of collected fees into infrastructure funding, more than the $600,000 recommended by the student fees board.
“When the infrastructure (student fee budget category) was created in 2003-2004, there was $230,000 in it,” Totten said. “Now there is $631,000. It was 10.71 percent of total student fees, and now it’s 23 percent.”
Gamble responded by saying that putting more of student fees into the “infrastructure” category is a budget-balancing measure.
“There is not more or less money going to students,” he said. “We could have dropped all the money into tuition, but if we did 3 percent of every dollar would go back to the state (as required by state law). When we put it in student fees (for infrastructure), we don’t have to give it back to the state.”
Gamble said “infrastructure” was a name for a budget category for which the administration would have complete discretion over the use of the funds in that category.
Scott Smart, vice president of business affairs, said the university would be able to spend “infrastructure” money collected from student fees on anything needed at the university, not just on such traditional infrastructure as building repairs.
Gamble agreed to meet with student fees board members before next month’s board of regents meeting to hammer out a plan whereby the infrastructure fee will no longer be labeled a “student fee.” It will continue to be a separate infrastructure fee, although it will still be assessed to students.
Totten said there has been confusion on the part of many students who mistakenly believed that the student fees board has discretion over the infrastructure fee money when in fact it does not.
Gamble said high infrastructure fee increases were necessary to have money set aside for high utility-rate hikes or any emergencies that might arise in the future.