June has been a busy month for the University’s Board of Regents, as it recently drafted the University’s budget and tuition rates for next year.

University Provost Martha Pollack sat down with The Michigan Daily to discuss changing tuition rates, increasing socioeconomic diversity at the University and working to increase state appropriations.

Pollack briefly discussed tuition equality. Regents and administrators have been grappling with that issue in the face of student protests this year.

She said the University has yet to finalize a decision after receiving a report from a task force assembled to research the issue.

“I believe that there will be some kind of announcement fairly soon but I don’t have an exact date,” Pollack said.

On tuition rates:

Pollack said the continuing increase in tuition is due to cuts in state appropriations — which are at half the per-student level they have been in the past decade — as well as the nature of the higher education system.

“There are kinds of industries like ours that are very labor intensive and in those labor intensive industries, costs tends to grow faster than inflation,” she said. “That is part of the reason you see super-inflationary tuition growth in the past.”

Pollack added that such growth, which goes beyond the rate of inflation, was not a sustainable trend and the University would continue to have to raise tuition to battle increasing operating costs.

“The goal is to find some sustainable path between those two extremes,” she said.

The 2013-2014 tuition increase was the lowest in 29 years for in-state students, with a rate increase of 1.1 percent for in-state students and a 3.2 percent increase for out-of-state students.

Pollack said the University has tried to contain raising tuition rates in the last 10 years by being “really aggressive at cost containment” and increasing the amount of financial aid available to students. She cited these efforts in the fact that the University now meets full need for out-of-state families earning $40,000 a year or less.

“The biggest change (in the budget) is financial aid,” she said. “We have continued to really put even more resources into financial aid. That is the one big dramatic change.”

The challenge to increase financial aid, thus lowering the burden for out-of-state and in-state students, will also be addressed through the upcoming capital campaign, which will seek to secure billions in donations.

Pollack said the most important goal of the campaign would be to find donors who would provide additional support to financial aid programs.

Despite these efforts, she said there were too many variables to determine what tuition rates will be in future years.

“We always want to have tuition increases to be as low as possible but there is just so much uncertainty,” Pollack said. “There is a lot going on in higher ed right now and I don’t think anyone can say what tuition will be in two years or four years.”

On socioeconomic diversity at the University:

Pollack said though socioeconomic diversity for in-state students has been trending upwards, the University is still concerned about the low number of applicants coming from low-income families, both in-state and out-of state.

She said the University’s goal for socioeconomic diversity is to have roughly the socioeconomic diversity of the demographic of high-school students who score at or above the 25th percentile on the ACT.

But Pollack said University research has shown once a student has applied, his or her socioeconomic status does not necessarily determine attendance.

“Once they apply, they are equally likely to get in and once they get in, they are equally likely to come,” she said.

Pollack added that, under the guidance of Lisa Rudgers, University vice president of communications, the University has been brainstorming ways to reach out to low-income students to encourage them to apply. Efforts have included simplified financial aid brochures and mailings.

However out-of-state socioeconomic diversity has been flat or trending downward. In addition, more out-of-state students have been enrolling in the University, a trend Pollack said was the continuation of a “really dramatic drop” in Michigan high-school graduates.

Pollack said the University was attempting to address this lack of diversity in out-of-state students through increased financial aid.

On state appropriations

Pollack said though state appropriations have increased, they did not make up for the massive cuts from previous years.

She added that Cynthia Wilbanks, University vice president for government relations, has gone to great lengths in past years to build an alliance with business leaders and legislators in order to secure more appropriations for the University.

“We are very pleased that for the past two years we have gotten an increase but it has been small and it hasn’t begun to make up for the cuts,” she said. “We are working very hard to try to make our case and really be sure that Governor Snyder and the legislators really understand the value of the University to the state.”

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