By: Everet Rummel
The Rutgers Board of Governors voted unanimously to raise tuition and fees for all three campuses on July 16. The reason officially cited for the increase is higher expenditures, primarily higher negotiated employee salaries. Total charges for a New Jersey resident and Newark College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate who commutes will rise to $13,297, according to a Rutgers press release. Total charges for such a student who lives on campus will rise by 1.48 percent to $25,806.
These changes come despite years of student activists calling for a controversial tuition freeze and other reforms backed by NJ Assemblywoman Celeste Riley and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan. Both have sponsored a series of 20 bills intended to address higher education costs, accountability, and performance in New Jersey. These bills include a ban on requiring first-year students living on campus to purchase a university meal plan, an improvement of the transferability of credits across NJ schools, one which would base a portion of the state aid a school receives on its performance, and one which would require higher education institutions to develop online open-access textbooks for all students.
Nancy Winterbauer, Vice President for University Budgeting at Rutgers University, was asked to comment on the approved increases:
“While expenditures in most areas of the university’s budget are driven by employee salary costs, we do anticipate additional expenses in the coming year for items such as student financial aid, library subscriptions, educational and research equipment, fuel and utilities, among others.”
Some members of the Rutgers community are not convinced. Edwin Rodriguez, a student activist and undergraduate at Rutgers University-Newark, has been involved in promoting the Riley-Cryan reform package
“Tuition increase for the most part does not follow any logical pattern. It does not go by inflation, it is just a number that some administrators decide to throw out there,” Rodriguez stated in an email exchange. “Rutgers already has a decent amount of money on reserve but instead of tapping into that the Rutgers Administration at Old Queens decides to put the pressure on the students.”
Nevertheless, NJ state aid to public universities has been declining over the years, which is why administrators have generally opposed any kind of tuition freeze. News sources say that Rutgers remains neutral in regard to other proposed reforms.
“Tuition and fee increases vary from year to year based on a variety of factors, including the terms of negotiated union salary contracts and the anticipated level of state support, among others,” Dr. Winterbauer stated. “Each year, the development of the university budget is a balancing act, trying to find the right combination of expenditures and revenues needed to maintain the quality, affordability, and accessibility of a Rutgers education.”
Finally, the recent merger of Rutgers University with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) has raised concerns of tuition increases since it was first proposed. Dr. Winterbauer had the following to say in regard to the merger:
“Obviously, the merger of units formerly associated with UMDNJ has increased the total university budget by a significant amount (well over $1 billion); however, the increased size of the university has not been a factor in tuition and fee increases this year or last.”