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The University of Minnesota will increase its tuition by 1.5% next year despite objections from students who felt a price hike was unwarranted after a year of mostly online learning.

The U's Board of Regents approved President Joan Gabel's $4 billion budget for the next fiscal year on a 10-1 vote Tuesday.

The tuition bump for undergraduate and graduate students is the first increase in two years — the U froze tuition for most students this past academic year amid the pandemic. But it also comes after the university received more than $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds and a $38 million state funding boost from the Minnesota Legislature. Gabel's budget includes about $50 million in spending reductions and internal reallocations.

The university will use that money, incoming state funding and $13.5 million in new revenue generated from the tuition hike to help pay for investments in long-term initiatives, a 1.5% salary increase for employees and any lingering pandemic expenses.

"This proposed budget reflects difficult choices and the strength, resiliency and shared sacrifice of every member of our university family," Gabel said.

Undergraduate tuition for Minnesota residents attending the U's Twin Cities campus will increase by about $200, bringing it just above $13,500 per year. Resident undergraduate tuition increases at the Duluth, Rochester, Morris and Crookston campuses will range from $157 to $187.

Nonresident undergrads at the Twin Cities campus will pay about $480 more, with their tuition totaling $32,000 for the year.

Student room and board costs will increase by about 5% at most U campuses. Twin Cities students living in dorms will pay an average of about $575 more.

In public comments submitted to the board, students overwhelmingly opposed the tuition increase.

"Increasing tuition after the pandemic is simply wrong. As a freshman last year, I didn't get to experience any semblance of normalcy, so please explain why it's worth another $200 this year," U student Nick Larson wrote.

U student Erin Nelson stressed that many students already struggle to afford tuition, balancing jobs and taking out loans to do so.

"From talking to high school students, safety itself has been a large deterrence factor at this school. By adding to our tuition, I'm worried it will only add fuel to the fire and lead students away from joining the Gopher community," Nelson wrote.

Regent Darrin Rosha was the only board member to vote against the budget. He offered an amendment to freeze tuition and instead lower the investment in long-term initiatives, arguing that another price increase would widen the affordability gap between the U and its peer universities. The University of Wisconsin, Rosha noted, charges resident students about $3,000 less per year than Minnesota does.

"This has real impact on real people and I believe that we are out of alignment," Rosha said.

Rosha's proposal failed on an 8-3 vote, with him and Regents James Farnsworth and Mike Kenyanya voting in favor.

"I don't want to cut our strategic initiative money because that is what's going to get us to the future," said Regent Doug Huebsch, who voted to approve the budget.

Board members were in agreement that the university needs to set a long-term tuition strategy soon.

Athletics department loan

Additionally, regents approved a resolution allowing the university to take out a loan of up to $50 million to cover revenue losses its athletics department suffered over the past year.

It's the final measure the university is taking to cover losses of the past year. The university weathered a $170 million shortfall during the pandemic by furloughing employees, cutting pay for top administrators and freezing hiring and pay raises, among other things. Federal COVID-19 relief funding was also used to help plug the budget deficit.

"Using debt to pay for ongoing operational expenses goes against everything I learned … in 30-plus years in the business community. But I don't see a better solution," said Regent David McMillan. "There are very few other tools in this tool kit for us to use at this point."

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234