Attendees left the March 10 Student Government Association meeting with answers. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating officer, Dr. Randy O’Rear, answered questions regarding future financial aid changes.
Undergraduate tuition for the fall will be raised from $580 per credit hour to $610 per credit hour. The university was sensitive to the current state of the economy, which has affected many students and their families. Other than the tuition increase, there were no other fee or room and board increases.
The average cost of attendance for students next year will only increase 3.5 percent–the lowest increase in more than ten years.
O’Rear has a large role in monitoring university funding and spending.
“We managed to hold the line as best we could on tuition,” O’Rear said of next year’s expenditures. “The overall budget is only growing 3.9%.”
Five new faculty and three new staff positions were added.
As an institution with roughly 2,700 students, managed growth will help the university keep costs down for students.
“We need good, steady growth to allow us to try (to) hold the line on tuition,” O’Rear said. “So that will be an imperative. That will be a nonnegotiable because we really don’t have any other choice unless we are blessed with major gifts to our endowment.”
Students often wonder about block tuition, where rates are fixed for a certain number of hours. Students then pay the same price regardless of whether or not they take more than or less than the number of hours of the fixed rate.
The university has looked into this option but was not satisfied.
“We have studied this several times and to this point, have not been convinced that block tuition is in the best interest of the majority of our students,” Kristy Brischke, the director of student organizations, said.
SGA invites vice presidents throughout the year to speak at their meetings to address student concerns.
“I think sometimes students just need to be a little bit more informed about it because there are a lot of people that if we went to block tuition would be in a lot of trouble right now because the average load for our students is really only 12 to 13 hours.”
Even though block tuition may seem attractive, in the long run it costs students more. Universities that use the method typically set their block rate based on 16 credit hours. Therefore, students who take 12 to 15 hours lose money because they must pay the block rate.
“What happens is, the major winner has never been the student … and we cannot in good conscience do it,” O’Rear said.
An alternative to block is locked or fixed tuition. With this method, a student’s tuition rate remains the same for all four years of attendance.
O’Rear said the university has looked at other institutions that have used this method and none have said it was “a good thing” for their institution.
Senior Holly Ridgeway, who serves as senior class external senator in SGA, said, “It seems like a good idea on paper when you’re first looking at it, but, overall, what is best for the student, I do think, is just paying by the hour.”
In this approach, the university must project expenses for the future, causing rates to be higher the initial year, which deters entering freshman, thus hurting the institution.
About 35% of UMHB students do not return the next academic year. The average attrition rate for comparable schools is 30%.
Changes have been made in the freshman seminar program with the goal of slowly, steadily raising retention rates.
“Hopefully, the change in our new freshmen program will yield good results,” O’Rear said. “But I think you’ll be able to see it much more improved this next year.”
Financial aid packages and scholarships will also be raised in the hopes of attracting and retaining students.
O’Rear said the goal is to have a 75% retention rate “to be better than average.”
Sophomore double major in business administration and psychology, Laurel Luedecke, attended the SGA meeting with questions on her mind.
She has seen in her own graduating class how the retention rates affect campus life.
“I’ve known a few in my dorm that have transferred out … for different reasons,” Luedecke said.
The anticipated growth is slow and steady.
“But what we’re not going to do is … totally change the nature of the institution,” O’Rear said.
Despite job and service cutbacks across the United States, the university is moving forward.
“The economy is in bad shape, but on a positive standpoint, our applications are up, our enrollment deposits are up (and) housing deposits are up.”
O’Rear will take the position as the university president June 1.
“We are exercising significant caution … because things can change pretty quickly in this economy today,” he said, “But things look very positive for the fall.”