People trying to fight through the economic downturn by earning college degrees may soon find them harder to afford in Nebraska.
While budget cuts proposed at the University of Nebraska probably won't cause a midstream tuition hike this school year, the president of the university hinted that they could lead to a larger-than-usual increase next school year.
"Historically, when appropriations have gone down tuition has gone up higher than average," university President J.B. Milliken said after testifying before the Legislature's budget-writing Appropriations Committee on Monday.
Milliken wouldn't predict how much tuition may rise. He also said it's too early to say what cuts the university would have to make should it get a total of $26 million less from the state this year and next, as proposed by Gov. Dave Heineman.
"We will be looking hard at whether there are particular programs that need to be eliminated," Milliken said.
Heineman's proposed cut to the university's budget is part of his plan to close a $334 million state-budget gap caused by lower-than-expected tax revenues. Lawmakers are considering the proposal during a special legislative session that began last week.
The university and state-funded colleges, including Peru, Wayne and Chadron State Colleges, would see the state-funded portions of their budgets decreased by 1.8 percent this year and 3.4 percent next year under Heineman's plan. The reductions that NU and the state colleges face are less severe than those proposed for all other state agencies under Heineman's plan: 2.5 percent this year and 5 percent next year.
Stan Carpenter, chancellor of the Nebraska State College System, said he would try to hold next year's tuition increase to the same rate it jumped this year _ 5 percent. A significant tuition hike at NU's campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney would follow the smallest tuition increase in more than a decade _ tuition rose 4 percent this year.
The average, annual tuition increase at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln over the past two decades has been nearly 7 percent. When the state last faced a budget crisis in the early part of this decade, average annual increases ranged from 10 percent to 15 percent.
Like Milliken, Carpenter said programs were in jeopardy of being eliminated on the heels of painful reductions that have already been made. Last year, for example, social work, museum studies and information-science technology were cut from the curriculum at Chadron State College.
More cuts in programs and higher tuition could come at the same time demand for financial aid is rising.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "we're running a good 1,000 applications ahead" of normal so far this year for financial aid and the pace is not slowing, said Craig Munier, director of scholarships and financial aid.
"I suspect that we're seeing families, who in the past weren't in need financial aid, now are," because of the economy Munier said.
Munier added that historically, big spikes in tuition have not led to commensurate increases in demand for financial aid including scholarships and federal loans.