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UNM tuition increase possible

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico officials will consider raising tuition or fees by a little more than $100 for about 17,000 students to help pay for the school’s online learning system by fall 2016.

Members of the university’s financial and enrollment teams presented that plan at the regent’s finance subcommittee Thursday morning.

Currently, students who take an online course pay an additional $33-per-credit hour when taking classes that are exclusively online. A normal class is three credit hours, which translates to a $99 fee. For a student taking a normal course load of 15 credit hours, that means roughly $500 in additional fees for those exclusively online. And that’s a problem for the university as it tries to compete with neighboring universities for students who take classes solely online. Roughly 2,000 students only take online classes and another 5,000 to 7,000 take at least one online class.

The new plan calls for charging $10-per-credit hour for online classes. To make up for the lost funding, undergrad students taking 15 credit hours would be charged an additional $107 in fees, a 14 percent increase from the current $750-per-semester. Those fees provide funding for bond projects and upkeep for the student health center, student government and athletics among others. Under the new plan, fees would go down or remain the same for about 10,000 students, and would go up for 17,000 students.

Chaouki Abdallah, the university’s provost, said this plan isn’t a fee increase, and is revenue neutral for the university. Rather, the plan calls for traditional students to help cover the online expenses while decreasing expenses for students taking online classes exclusively.

The potential higher student costs also would come at a time when lawmakers want to drop the statewide funding for higher education from $848.5 million to $845.4 million, a $3.1 million cut. For UNM, that means $1.39 million fewer dollars than originally projected. Last year, UNM received about $325 million of its $2.8 billion budget from the Legislature. President Bob Frank has also said he would cut 100 positions to counteract declining tuition revenue.

Students also could be paying more in student fees starting the fall 2016 semester to fund several bond-related projects, such as renovations to Johnson Gym. The regents will approve the final budget later this year.

Currently, about two in three students use UNM’s online course system for their classes. A little less than one in five take classes exclusively online, but this population, Abdallah argued, inequitably shored up the cost of online learning.

Students representatives say they would prefer the university roll the online class fees into tuition. Jenna Hagengruber, president of the undergraduate student government, said online instruction is part of most classes, and including that cost in tuition shows Internet as a necessity.

And many scholarships, such as the lottery scholarship, cover portions of tuition and not fees. The president of the graduate student body Texanna Martin said she takes an online class, and that additional $100 comes from her pockets. If it was a tuition expense, she wouldn’t have to pay it.

A tuition increase means the university pays more for graduate assistants’ tuition costs and in setting aside funds for low-income students. The regents didn’t make any decisions on Thursday, but Vice President Robert Doughty said he was hesitant to raise tuition costs.

“We would need to see an exact number before we go any further,” he said.

The regents agreed to raise tuition by 3 percent in April 2015 with the promise of not raising tuition by more than 3 percent annually.