Click here for COVID-19 updates affecting the campus community

EDITORIAL: Toeing the line with tuition

As the calendar year comes to an end, students at Central Michigan University, administrators and university trustees will face distinctly different challenges.

For students, preparing for final exams and finishing important projects will be a top priority. Across campus, university officials are working on a solution to CMU’s $10 million budget shortfall while grappling with the reality of decreased state aid and overall enrollment.

Reasons for the $9.8 million budget deficit include lower than anticipated enrollment on campus, online and satellite locations, and lower than projected state appropriations.

Credit hours for main campus were 5,070 less than expected, contributing $2.16 million to the deficit. For online and satellite locations, there were 11,349 less than anticipated credit hours, which added $5.66 to the deficit. State appropriations and other budget shortfalls account for $2 million less than anticipated.

In turn, CMU’s Board of Trustees must weigh these issues while crafting fiscal policy before the end of the 2016-17 academic year. That includes conversations about tuition hikes beginning next week when trustees meet on Dec. 8.

Part of these conversations will ultimately dictate tuition costs for the 2017-18 school year. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of “how much.” CMU has increased tuition steadily since 1993.

We ask CMU trustees to weigh these issues with students and their wallets in mind. Any pending tuition increases must not exceed the average scope of past tuition hikes. Students tuition dollars should not be used to make up for the university’s internal losses.

CMU’s last tuition hike follows a 14 percent cumulative six-year tuition increase, the lowest among Michigan public universities. That puts the average annual tuition increase at 2.3 percent, sometimes slightly higher.

Still, tuition comprised almost 60 percent of CMU’s operating budget this year, while state appropriations funded only 17 percent. At a time of hemorrhaging enrollment from regional high school graduates and transfer students, trustees must commit themselves to overall affordability if they want to keep retain existing tuition dollars.

Surmounting current enrollment issues will become more difficult if those students are priced out of the market. At $405 a credit hour, a standard 12-credit hour course load costs students nearly $4,900 per semester. That’s excluding any applicable lab or material fees needed for higher-credit courses.

We understand the magnitude of a $10 million deficit, and we understand what that means for CMU instructors and individual colleges. Budgets might be reduced. Non-tenured professors and staff could face layoffs. Some positions might not get filled.

Administrators have already detailed their plans to rearrange college budgets in a way that does not depend on an unreasonable increase in tuition. We believe in their abilities to fix this problem on their own without cushioning the blow with tuition dollars.

The philosophy of “One CMU” requires each member of the CMU community to do what they must to make our university stronger. Students and their tuition dollars have been toeing that line for more than 20 years. It is time for individual colleges to share that burden.