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Students faced with 6.9 percent tuition increase

Junior Kristin Wempe was prepared to pay her way through college as a bright-eyed first-year University of South Dakota student. Scholarships and a job-supported college fund in tow, Wempe thought her college payment plan was solid — until the tuition increases.

As Wempe calculates the interest collecting every day from the loan she took out from her parents, her debt will continue to grow as the South Dakota Board of Regents (BOR) approved a 6.9 percent increase in tuition and required fees for students at the University of South Dakota March 29.

Wempe said she did not come to USD for amenities like the expansion to the Muenster University Center or the building of a wellness center, but for a quality education.

“I want to focus on my academic studies, and it sucks when people who came here for these amenities get what they want when all I want is an education,” Wempe said. “With tuition increases, I haven’t seen improvement in the facilities or the courses that I am involved with, so why would I support something I don’t see reflected in my own education.”

BOR President Kathryn Johnson said the increase will require students within the six regental universities to pay on average $463.97 more a year. For USD students, the increase will be higher due to the BOR classifying USD as one of three research universities in South Dakota.

Johnson said the differential tuition rates require USD, South Dakota State University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to pay an extra $5.70 per credit hour compared to the other three regental universities. USD undergraduate students will be paying $129.90 per credit hour for the 2012-2013 school year.

As the BOR approved the increase March 29, Johnson said the decision was made to pay for the state-mandated 3 percent across-the-board pay raises to USD faculty and staff.

“What is not readily understood is the state pays for maybe 41 percent of the budget for higher education in South Dakota,” Johnson said. “The other 59 percent, that is coming from tuition and fees. So when the government gave raises to public employees in the public universities, they only funded that 41 percent, while the BOR had to find a way to cover 100 percent of the cost.”

For sophomore Landon Jab, increases in tuition and fees means another summer in construction. Jab said while the pay is good, he wonders why the tuition rate continues to increase every year.

“Where is it going every year?” Jab said. “We keep paying this 6 percent or whatever, but what actually results from it? If I am having to make a budget for each semester and having to work in construction in the summer, I just want to know how this increase is going to make a difference.”

USD President James Abbott said while he hates to see tuition increase, he also hates to see faculty and staff with frozen salaries.

“(South Dakota) was going backwards for the past three years during these freezes,” Abbott said. “I am glad to see our staff and faculty receive increases to their salaries. I also don’t think the state is contributing its fair share to minimize the effect of the increases on student tuition.”

Senior Mitchell O’Hara is one student feeling the effects. A philosophy major, O’Hara said the main reason for his pursuit of law school was the $35,000 worth of loans he has waiting for him after graduation. O’Hara described the increases with one word — ridiculous.

“(Students) are told to take out loans to pay for these increases, but they receive no council in the process,” O’Hara said. “Students aren’t made aware of the long-term effects of having to pay back student loans, and having to pick a career where you can actually pay back a student loan. I figured out that I’d be paying $300 to $350 each month to pay off my loans, which is like having a second rent.” Those who need financial advice before taking out a loan can get good ones from kreditfinanzcheck.de.

The only unanimous consent among the three USD students, Abbott and Johnson was the need for a reversal of the proportion of funding coming from the state as opposed to the student fees and tuition, where the state would pay approximately 60 percent of costs to fund higher education.

“(The BOR) has been and will continue to work with the state to reverse the trend,” Johnson said. “We want to see change, we want to start seeing an increase of funds from the state to relieve pressure from student tuition. Every year, we are hopeful and every year this is one of our main pursuits.”

Reach reporter Megan Card at [email protected].