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Trustees delay decisions on tuition, financial aid changes

LARAMIE — One of the most significant policy changes the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees was scheduled to make this week was a major change in the university’s tuition policy and financial aid.

For the first time in five years, the board was considering diverting from its standard policy of 4 percent tuition increases for both in-state and out-of-state students.

Had the trustees’ budget committee signed off on the plan, the full board would have voted whether to, for the 2020-2021 academic year, freeze tuition rates for in-state students while increasing out-of-state tuition by 8 percent.

Administrators estimate the changes would increase the in-state enrollment by 75 students while decreasing the number of out-of-state students by 84.

Instead, the trustees’ budget committee has opted to wait until July before making a decision.

On Monday and Tuesday, four trustees sat through more than 15 hours of budget hearings, where numerous administrators asked for a variety of new funding that would require increases in UW’s block grant from the Legislature.

Administrators and trustees will now need to sift through those requests before finalizing a budget for the 2020 fiscal year this summer and making funding requests to Gov. Mark Gordon for the 2021-2022 biennium.

Given the impact UW’s tuition and financial aid policies have on the budget, Trustee John McKinley said he’d like to have more time to scrutinize the proposed tuition policies in conjunction with the trustees’ budgeting process.

McKinley chairs the board’s budget committee and led the budget hearings this week.

Time constraints Wednesday also played a role in the decision.

The budget committee meeting was originally scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and needed to conclude by 1 p.m. for other committees to begin their work that day.

However, the trustees began interviewing the three candidates for UW’s acting president position in executive session at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, and those discussions ultimately continued past noon.

McKinley said he’d also like to consider the tuition policy and financial aid plans separately.

“I don’t think a tuition policy should include a financial aid portion,” McKinley said. “A tuition policy should be a standalone policy, and financial aid package should be tailored to address issues that may arise out of the tuition. … I am not comfortable with this committee making a recommendation on this to the full board.”

Along with changing the tuition rates, the proposal would have added $1 million of need-based aid for Wyoming students while ending the requirement for mandatory fee increases.

“What became very clear over the course of this process, and something I know that President (Laurie) Nichols has been emphasizing, is that we are a very merit-based state in the way that we award financial aid,” Trustee Michelle Sullivan said Wednesday. “Something that we recognized through this tuition process is that those individuals who are most financially at need are receiving the least amount of financial aid, so there was a real interest in beginning to shift some of our focus onto the young people in the state of Wyoming who would benefit with some financial aid. That, to me, was the big take-away from all of this.”

In addition to increasing the out-of-state price, UW administrators are also proposing plans that would reduce the amount number out-of-state students who receive tuition waivers through the Rocky Mountain Scholars and Western Undergraduate Exchange programs. Currently, most out-of-state students receive at least some tuition discounts.

In the 2018 fiscal year, UW handed out $6.2 million in tuition waivers, with the Western Undergraduate Exchange accounting for $3.6 million and the Rocky Mountain Scholars accounting for $1.4 million of that.

During the same year, $23.5 million in institutional aid and $7 million in aid from the UW Foundation was handed out.

Under the university’s policy, out-of-state students with a high enough composite of ACT scores and grade-point averages automatically receive the Western Undergraduate Exchange award, which provides 150 percent of in-state tuition.

Under the current average requirement, a student would need at least a 28.5 on the ACT and a 3.5 GPA. GPAs need to be higher if a student has a low ACT score, and vice versa.

Under the proposed changes, the average student would need a 3.7 GPA and a ACT score of 33.5 to qualify for the Western Undergraduate Exchange.

The proposed revision for tuition waivers would also increase dollar figures of the Rocky Mountain Scholarships while also increasing the academic requirements.

The new strategy arose out of a realization that, despite a record freshman class of 1,859 coming to campus this past fall, tuition revenue has been less than expected.

By the end of February, UW had brought in $58 million worth of tuition revenue for the school year. Administrators had budgeted for $2.6 million more than that.