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MU considers guaranteed tuition plan

By Marissa Stipek, Opinion Editor

Miami University is considering the implementation of a guaranteed tuition program - potentially as early as next fall.

This would mean the price students in an incoming class pay their first year at Miami would remain constant throughout all four years. Not only would tuition stay the same, but room and board and student fees would, as well.

The program would require a slightly larger-than-average tuition increase in its first year to account for the lack of increase thereafter. Yearly tuition changes would affect only that year's incoming class, so each new cohort would be paying a bit more than the one before them, as is the case now.

The overall cost under this program would be similar to the current system, in which tuition increases by smaller increments each year. The idea is to provide students and their parents a higher degree of certainty as to what they will be paying.

President David Hodge explained the program to The Miami Student.

"There's a one-time bigger jump to compensate for the fact that you're going to be flat for four years," Hodge said. "Then every subsequent year, you would have normal - whatever normal changes you would make."

Ideally, these "normal" changes would not surpass a 2 percent annual increase, applied only to each year's incoming class, not all students.

In 2013, the Ohio Legislature created a bill enabling universities to enact such a guaranteed tuition program, with a tuition increase cap for the introductory year. Since then, Ohio University has been the biggest advocate statewide, adopting the program for the current academic year.

At its biennial budget meeting in June, the state passed a resolution awarding additional funding to public universities who freeze tuition for in-state students. Miami is currently exploring how to employ a guaranteed tuition plan in a way that would adhere to the state's conditions and maintain financial stability.

"[We need] to make sure what we recommend would be viewed as acceptable in the current environment," said David Creamer, vice president for finance and business services. "We want to make sure whatever is recommended makes sense for students and that we can implement it correctly."

Along with Ohio University, colleges in other states have set up similar plans.

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Claire Wager, director of university communications, said she has conferred with representatives of the College of William and Mary - in its third year of the guaranteed tuition program - and they have seen positive results.

"Families have appreciated knowing what the costs will be," Wagner said.

One of the biggest advantages of the program would be the ability to plan ahead, especially for students receiving scholarships.

"Now [under the current tuition plan], a scholarship remains the same, but if you go up in tuition, you've got an increasing gap," Hodge said.

For example, in-state tuition for the 2015-2016 school year is $13,533. If a student were receiving a $2,000 annual scholarship, he or she would be responsible for covering the remaining cost of

$11,533. If tuition increased, but the scholarship remained $2,000, the student would have to pay a higher balance. With a guarantee in place, the gap would remain steady as well, so there would be no unexpected costs for students.

Hodge said Miami students, particularly the Associated Student Government (ASG), initially pushed for this plan and presented the idea to the Board of Trustees.

ASG's student senate first voted in favor of a guaranteed tuition plan in April 2014. At the Board of Trustees meeting last Friday, ASG President Joey Parizek announced the student senate reaffirmed its support of the resolution with a vote of 47-0 on Sept. 15.

Parizek told the board the tuition guarantee would give students the ability to accurately forecast cost, and ultimately relieve financial uncertainty.

The Board of Trustees is investigating the option, but no resolution has been passed, Wagner said.

"We'll continue throughout the fall term to actually create a fine-tuned plan with actual numbers … and make sure we've thought about all the issues that we need to think about," Hodge said.

The board will review the guaranteed tuition promise at its December meeting to determine whether it is viable for next fall.

Regardless of the outcome, current in-state students will not see a tuition increase next fall. If a tuition plan were launched in 2016, only first-years would experience a raise.

"From an administration point of view, we hope that it will be able to happen, because this is the best thing for students," Hodge said.

Additional reporting by Reis Thebault and Emily Tate.