Presidents circle at the University of Utah Monday September 14, 2015.

Sarah Moffit refers to tuition increases as a “fact of life.”

But though the strategic communication junior accepts the annually raised rates, she isn’t without questions about the growing price tag of attending the U. To get some clarity, Moffit attended the university’s “Truth in Tuition” meeting on Wednesday, March 9, stopping at each table and voicing concerns to the participating administrators.

“I’ve asked probably 100 questions,” she joked.

The event focused on a proposed 3.9 percent tuition increase at the U – amounting to an extra $139 per student each semester with a 15-credit course load – forecasted to begin Summer Semester. The State Board of Regents, to meet April 1 in St. George, will set the tier one increase somewhere between three and 3.5 percent, which applies to all public universities in the state to counteract inflation. The U can add an individual tier two increase to that, with funds going toward on-campus programs and initiatives.

Senior Vice President Ruth Watkins said the 3.9 percent increase is self-imposed by the U as the maximum amount the institution will raise tuition, meaning if the State Board sets a 3.5 percent increase, the university will not add more than 0.4 percent.

“We think that’s a responsible increase that won’t harm students,” she said.

Watkins walked around the room at the Marriott Library on Wednesday, speaking with students and explaining the information and data displayed on posters about different aspects of tuition, such as what an increase would fund and how the U compares to other schools. This new format – which differs from the lectures of past years – was intended to increase participation for students, who could directly speak with faculty standing ready to answer questions.

University spokesperson Maria O’Mara said the tuition meeting last year was “not well-attended” but did not have specific numbers. About 20 students attended the event this week, mostly those involved with ASUU, including Moffit, the Assembly chair.

The U has the highest tuition of any public university in the state, currently at $7,130 per year, not including student fees. The next closest, Utah State University, is $5,617 – a difference of more than $1,500. Snow College is the lowest at $3,088. The U was also the only college in Utah to add a tier two tuition increase last year – raising the price 3.5 percent when the State Board required just three percent, according to data from the Utah System of Higher Education.

Watkins said ranking the U according to other schools in the state isn’t a fair comparison because this is a flagship research institution. Wednesday’s event instead contrasted the U to “peer” universities, namely those in the Pac-12 and the Big 10. In that grouping, the U has the second-lowest tuition (including fees) at $8,197. The lowest is the University of Iowa at $8,104. Ranking one above the U is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln at $8,279. The highest on the list is Pennsylvania State University at $17,514.

When evaluated in this way, Watkins said the U is “a remarkably affordable university” for what it offers students. She believes the value of a degree earned also goes up when the quality of the university improves – which requires funding.

The tier two tuition increase the U is considering for the 2016-2017 academic year will go toward revamping orientation, expanding course offerings (including new online options), increasing advising availability, developing more work opportunities for students on campus and improving graduation rates.

Over the past 10 years, the U has seen annual tuition increases ranging from 3.5 to 9.5 percent. And since 2009, it has raised a total of 30.28 percent – more than $1,600 when inflation is factored in. Associate vice president of Budget & Planning Cathy Anderson said although the university tries to solicit money from outside sources to cover some of the costs, scholarships funded by donors have a hard time keeping up with the increases and aren’t enough to stave off the annual rise in tuition.

Moffit, who has one year left before graduating, will have to pay for whatever increase is approved in April, but she walked away from the one-hour open house appreciating the insight she gained and the communication provided for students.

She said: “I think this event is really valuable.”

c.tanner@dailyutahchronicle.com

@CourtneyLTanner

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