Thursday, December 13, 2012

Some U students say mission of serving all 

is blunted by high costs

From the Star-Tribune:

Poor and middle-class students make up a smaller share of the University of Minnesota's undergraduate population than a decade ago. That has student leaders worried that many Minnesotans are being priced out of the state's land-grant university.

The share of undergraduates on the Twin Cities campus from families with incomes less than $110,000 has shrunk since 2001, the university's numbers show. Meanwhile, the proportion from families making more than $110,000 a year has grown -- from 9 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2011.

That highest-income bracket, once the smallest, is now the biggest.

Flagship schools across the country have been raising tuition to cover deep cuts in state funding and, as a result, most are enrolling more wealthy students, said Tom Mortenson, an Iowa-based higher education analyst.

... data from the state demographer show that households with incomes that exceed $110,000 "still make up only 17 to 18 percent of the state's population, suggesting that 23 percent of the student body coming from these households is not fully explained by these societal trends," the report says.

Their conclusion: It's tuition. In-state tuition and fees at the Twin Cities campus exceed $13,500 this year. After adding other costs, including room and board, the total comes to almost $24,900.

"We're asking them to look into whether we're leaving certain student populations out that have previously been the main population at the University of Minnesota," said Meghan Mason, vice chair of the student representatives to the board. "What is the role of the land-grant university?"

The main consequence of shifting higher education's cost from taxpayers to tuition has been that "all of the gains in bachelor's degree completion have gone to students who were born into the top half of the family income distribution," Mortenson said.

McMaster attributes much of the growth in higher-income students to the U's goal of becoming more selective. The average ACT composite score of undergraduates entering in 2012 was 27.7, an all-time high, the regents learned Thursday.

Increasing selectivity indirectly favors higher-income families who can afford to send their children to private schools and pay for tutors to help them prepare for tests, said Taylor Williams, student body president.
"I know more students in my high school who weren't able to gain admittance than I do those who had to turn it down because of the cost," he said.

While the share of students from the lowest income bracket dropped from 24 percent to 20 percent, the number of those students actually grew -- from about 4,200 to 5,800. That's because the number of U undergraduates swelled by almost 12,000.

Growth was concentrated in the highest-income group. The number of undergrads from families making more than $110,000 more than quadrupled -- from 1,491 in 2001 to 6,609 in 2011.

Both the share and the number of students from families making $30,000 to $75,000 dropped.

Some serious re-engineering is going to be required at the U of M. 

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