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WMU opts for low tuition increase, graduation compact

July 24, 2007

KALAMAZOO--After voting to keep the increase in student costs for 2007-08 at the one of the lowest levels for any of Michigan's 15 public universities, the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees gave University administrators the green light July 24 to launch a plan designed to save students from incurring the biggest cost of all--extra semesters or years on campus trying to complete their degrees.

Acting at a special public session July 24, trustees adopted a tuition plan presented by new WMU President John M. Dunn that would raise in-state tuition for the fall by just 6.4 percent and keep fees at their current rates. For a full-time, Michigan freshman or sophomore, that would mean an increase of just $394 per year, bringing the total of required tuition and fees to $7,260, which is 5.7 percent higher than tuition and required fees for the 2006-07 academic year. Tuition increases, alone, at the 12 other Michigan universities that have set fall tuition average 10 percent.

In keeping with the WMU tradition of having student financial assistance keep pace with tuition increases, Dunn pledged to boost the amount of financial aid available to students by 6.4 percent.

In a move related to the tuition measure, trustees approved Dunn's proposal for a plan called the Western Edge, a graduation compact with students designed to move participating students to degree completion in four years. The plan will begin with the entering class for fall 2007.

"Our focus is on making sure our students are successful and keeping the quality education we offer affordable," Dunn said of the plan. "No matter how much we contain costs and keep tuition low, nothing will save money for students and their families as much as finishing that degree on time. Every semester we can shave off of a student's time in college is an automatic savings in tuition and living expenses and a chance to be earning money in the work force and contributing to the Michigan economy or headed to graduate school."

The WMU plan will offer incoming students a compact that will require them to carry a full credit load, commit to annual advising, declare a major by the start of their sophomore year and agree to take advantage of a range of campus academic support measures. In turn, the University will provide enhanced advising resources and will adjust course scheduling to ensure better access to courses required for degree completion. Western Edge plan students who maintain a 3.0 GPA during their first year on campus will receive a financial incentive of $500 to help defray the cost of their second year at WMU. All plan participants also will be able to live in campus residence halls for four years with no increase in housing costs above 2007-08 levels.

Dunn told trustees that budgeting to keep the tuition increase down to 6.4 percent, meant "some painful internal decisions" to reduce the University's base budget by nearly $11 million. Those actions were triggered by recent state cuts and the uncertainty surrounding higher education appropriations from the Legislature for the coming year.

"We've done what we can to make sure we preserve our institutional quality without putting too great a burden on our students and families," Dunn said. "Now its up to the Legislature to live up to its commitments to ensure we can continue to keep our tuition at an affordable level. We simply can't do that without the state's support."

In presenting the plan to trustees, Dunn noted the well-established practice in higher education of measuring degree completion in six-year time frames. Students often take lighter class loads to work, change their majors repeatedly, take semesters off or find themselves out of sequence for a required class. Such patterns are the norm nationwide, but WMU, with a six-year graduation rate of 54 percent is one of the leaders among Michigan public universities for moving students toward graduation.

"We're very competitive, but we want to be even better," he told trustees. "Most students go to college expecting to earn a degree in four years. We're out to tap the energy and enthusiasm students have when they arrive on campus, and we're determined to remove any obstacles that get in the way of their success."

Complete details of the plan will be available to current and prospective students in the coming weeks. Dunn noted that for current students and those who opt not to participate in the Western Edge, there will be benefits as well. Enhanced advising and improved course scheduling will have an impact on all students, he said.

"We're making some strategic investments in how we carry out our core mission--helping students excel academically and prepare for successful lives," he said. "This will have a long-term effect on our ability to do that."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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