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FY ’15 focus: Affordability, academic excellence

By Rick Fitzgerald

The University puts a major emphasis on college affordability and academic excellence with the fiscal year 2015 general fund budget approved in June by the Board of Regents.

The budget leverages the state’s investment in higher education and the University’s ongoing cost-containment efforts to enhance academic excellence. It is designed to improve student access through significant additional investments in financial aid and holding the increase for in-state undergraduate tuition to less than the rate of inflation.

Key initiatives

The budget includes a $19.5-million increase in undergraduate financial aid — enough to lower the loan burden by $1,000 a year for in-state undergraduates with financial need from middle-income families. It also provides for strategic investments in new academic initiatives and the hiring of 60-80 additional faculty members to reduce class sizes.

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Undergraduate tuition for in-state students will increase by $210, or 1.6 percent, for the academic year. Out-of-state undergraduate tuition will increase 3.4 percent. Both increases are for students paying the most common lower-division tuition. Tuition for most graduate programs will increase 2.4 percent.

“We have maintained our focus on the budgeting priorities of academic excellence, affordability, access, and fiscal discipline,” says Provost Martha E. Pollack, the University’s chief academic and chief budget officer.

“This approach means that for a sixth straight year there will be no increase in the net cost of attendance for most students with need. We think that is incredibly important for our students,” she adds.

Regents asked questions about the multiyear budget forecasting, praised the ongoing efforts to trim costs and increase alternative revenue streams, and wondered aloud if there would be a point when state appropriations would be sufficient to avoid tuition increases before voting unanimously for the budget proposal.

Tuition, financial aid

Across all family income bands up to approximately $140,000 a year, financial aid will increase enough to cover the full increase in the cost of attendance for most students with need. The budget also boosts financial aid for out-of-state students, more than doubling the number of out-of-state students receiving aid packages that cover the full demonstrated need.

New website helps in-state students understand costs, financial aid.
Student costs will increase another 1 percent to cover a $4-per-year increase in the fee that supports Central Student Government activities, and a new $130-per-year fee that will fund improvements in the University unions and recreational sports facilities. This new fee, widely supported by students, was approved by the Board of Regents in April 2013.

In total, tuition and required fees will increase $344 per year, or 2.6 percent for in-state students paying the most common lower-division rate.

Cost containment

The budget extends the University’s decade-long commitment to cost containment by trimming an additional $24 million in recurring expenses from the general fund through a continued focus on operational efficiency, cost-containment, and seeking alternative sources of revenue. Since 2004, $289 million in recurring expenses has been trimmed from the general fund, allowing resources to be reallocated to higher priorities and constraining tuition increases.

Pollack says that by working with the schools and colleges throughout the budgeting process, the University has identified a number of efforts that will enhance the academic experience for students. Those initiatives will be funded primarily through the reallocation of existing resources by asking the schools and colleges to identify cuts that can offset new initiatives.

These investments fall into four general categories:

  • new academic programs
  • enhancement of the student experience
  • initiatives to improve diversity
  • expansion of international opportunities.

Revenue to the general fund comes from three main sources: tuition, state appropriation, and indirect cost recovery on sponsored research.

Indirect cost recovery pays specifically for the indirect costs of research making this funding not available for allocation on a discretionary basis. This leaves tuition dollars and the state appropriation as the primary general fund revenue sources that can be flexibly allocated. State funding is expected to increase 5.8 percent this year.

The budgeted increase in tuition and fee revenue reflects changes in enrollment plus the effect of the tuition rate increases and a slight projected increase in the proportion of out-of-state students. The incremental revenue associated with the University unions and recreational sports facility improvement fee also is included.

These revenue increases, coupled with cost-cutting efforts totaling $24 million, make up the overall general fund budget of $1.8 billion.

Residence hall rates

Separately, the Board of Regents approved a 2.5-percent increase in residence hall and undergraduate apartment room-and-board rates for 2014-15. That rate includes 0.5 percent to partially offset projected operating cost increases and 2 percent to continue funding major renovations of housing facilities, such as the renovation of West Quad that began in May and the improvements at South Quad that will be completed in August.

The cost per student for a double room with a basic meal plan will total $10,246 for the fall and winter terms, an increase of $250. Rental rates in Northwood Community Apartments IV and V for graduates and students with families will increase by an average of 0.5 percent.

University Housing is a self-funded auxiliary unit. The rate increases reflect adjustments for projected expenses, after planned reductions in operating costs.

Offsetting a forecast increase of $2.6 million in employee costs, food supplies, and inflation, University Housing is reducing other operating expenses by an estimated $2.2 million for fiscal year 2015. Since 2006, University Housing has reduced costs by $15.3 million to help minimize increases in room-and-board rates over the years.

Rick Fitzgerald

Rick Fitzgerald

RICK FITZGERALD is associate director of public affairs for the University of Michigan. His main areas of responsibility are emergency preparedness, labor agreements, university budget, and special projects.