U. Board of Governors approves tuition increase amidst student protest
The University Board of Governors approved a 2.5 percent increase in tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students, as part of the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget, at its meeting on July 18 at Winants Hall on the Old Queens campus.
Overall, the cost of attendance for the average in-state undergraduate living on campus will increase by 2.2 percent, with the cost of room and board rising by 1.9 percent.
For a typical University student, the increases translate to a cost of about $13,073 for tuition and mandatory fees — about $318 more than last year, according to a report by the board's finance committee.
Out-of-state undergraduates can expect their tuition and fees to increase by 4 percent.
BOG chairman Ralph Izzo urged that the raises are lower than those of other state schools.
The decision marks the second year in a row that University tuition and fees are increasing below the rate of inflation, Izzo said.
"But we also recognize, as a committee and as a board, that Rutgers has a responsibility to offer not just access but excellence," said Daniel Schulman, chairman of the board's finance committee. "… The demand for education is strong — not just because of the price we offer but because of the quality of the programs we have."
About $20 million in cuts to operating expenses are necessary to keep the cost of tuition affordable for students, Schulman said.
More than 50 students arrived an hour prior to the BOG's open session to protest the rumored cost increases and demand a tuition freeze. Several students shared their personal experiences through a megaphone and in between speakers, the group chanted "Keep Rutgers Public."
Some students continued the outdoor protest through the meeting, while other chose to sit in on the open session.
Seven students, including John Connelly, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, had the opportunity to address the board prior to their vote.
"There are a trillion dollars of student debt in this country that hang over my head and the head of every other student in the country," Connelly said to the BOG. "Right now, this board has the opportunity to make a firm policy decision to help alleviate that crisis."
But the BOG swiftly approved on the budget proposed by the Committee on Finance and Facilities, undeterred by several emotional accounts by students already struggling with tuition costs.
One of these students included University senior Kaitlin D'Agostino, who pleaded the board for a tuition freeze. She claimed that this past year, she barely had enough money for food and was almost forced to choose between school and survival.
D'Agostino tearfully told the board that because of her situation, she may not be able to afford another semester at the University if tuition increased any more.
After the board's vote, students left the meeting in disappointment and joined the protestors outside while D'Agostino sobbed in her seat.
But state aid will remain at about $262.76 million for 2012-2013, said Nancy Winterbauer, the vice president for University budgeting.
The board also allocated an additional $2.4 million in this year's budget bringing the total for student financial aid to $27.5 million, she said.
"It's a serious problem," Winterbauer said of student debt. "But universities on their own can't solve the student debt problem. Rutgers can't remain a public institution with very low tuition and not have state support and still provide quality programs that students want."
Sixty-one percent of University undergraduates were offered need-based financial aid last academic year through grants or subsidized loans, Winterbauer said.
Because of state support, the cost of attending Rutgers remains significantly less than its private competitors, Schulman said.
"Most students here are feeling somewhat mixed," said Connelly, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "We know things could be worse but we also know things could definitely be better."
Despite the outcome of the BOG meeting, Connelly said he was impressed with the students, who turned out despite the 100 degree weather and looming thunderstorm.
"I've never seen this many faces at a Board of Governors meeting that were under 50 years old," Connelly said. "I feel like this is the first drop before a coming storm. It really is life or death for some of us."
The raise of 2.5 percent is the lowest proposed tuition and fees increase in a decade, but it is not the lowest approved increase.
Though the board's finance committee originally proposed a 3 percent raise in tuition and fees for the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget, the board instead approved an increase of 1.8 percent. Under the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget, tuition and fees for in-state students increased by 4 percent and for out-of-state students, 6 percent.
At the July 18 meeting, the board also approved an operating budget of $2.207 billion for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.