Tuition remains relative bargain

While students often bemoan paying their tuition bills, undergraduate students at the U are paying less for school than their peers in most parts of the country.

A full-time resident student at the U paid an average of $4,662 in tuition and fees in 2006, while the typical student at a public university was stuck with a $5,836 tab — a difference of $1,174.

The U, however, wasn’t always cheaper than its rival institutions. In the mid to late-1980s the U’s tuition rate was on par with or slightly above the national average for public universities.

Then in the late-1990s, as tuition prices across the nation continued to grow at a steady rate, the U’s tuition increases stagnated. In the three years between 1996 and 1998 tuition prices grew by a mere 8 percent — tuition increased by 8.5 percent last year alone.

Though the U’s tuition increases have gotten larger in recent years, administrators say they expect rates to stay below the national average for some time.

“If we wanted to get back to where we were 20 years ago (compared to other schools), we would have to raise tuition extraordinary amounts,” said Paul Brinkman, associate vice president for budget and planning.

Brinkman said that looking back, he might have expected the U to have caught up to the national average by now. But it’s all part of a complex relationship between the U, the Utah State Legislature and the economy that, he said, “shifts gears..all the time.”

When the economy was booming in the 1990s, the state had more tax revenue and could support U programs. When the economy took a bad turn in 2000, the U was forced to up tuition to meet expenses when the Legislature gave less, Brinkman said.

Even with larger tuition increases in recent years — 8 to almost 10 percent — the gap between the U and other colleges hasn’t changed much.

Kay Harward, associate vice president for enrollment management, said the U is conscious about keeping its costs low to compete with other schools.

“We’re constantly keeping an eye on where we are in comparison to our peer institutions,” Harward said. “We want to be competitive in our market.”

Junior Lee Railey said that although paying tuition can be tough, he appreciates the bargain he gets at the U.

“I know I’ve definitely got the cheapest tuition in my family,” he said.

Railey, a physics major, said his sister, who goes to school on the east coast, pays about $5,000 more per year.

Others think that regardless of national averages, the U’s costs are too high.

“I think I’m being ripped off because of the quality here,” said Ryan Lindsey, a senior in exercise science. “I think the course availability and quality of instructors here is low.”

Harward said the way students evaluate tuition costs likely depends on what part of the country they’re from.

“Students in Utah would look at our tuition in a different way than students in Michigan,” he said.

[email protected]