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Moorhead, Minn. — College campuses may look deserted in the summer, but they're not. On the Minnesota State University-Moorhead campus maintenance crews repair and paint buildings.
A few students stroll across the campus. Next semster they'll pay more to be here. The school is looking at a 15-percent tuition increase. The increase is needed to offset a $1.6 million dollar shortfall. That means a full-time student will pay more than $3,600 a year. Roland Barden is president at Minnesota State University - Moorhead. He fears that may be too expensive. Especially for middle class families.
"We are just greatly concerned that we price ourselves out of the reach of those people," says Barden. "That is the historical purpose of regional universities like Minnesota State Moorhead."
Barden says it's not just tuition that is going up. "There's inflation in the price of housing, in the price of food, the price of gasoline," says Barden. "The price of being a student is going up."
The snack bar area on campus is quieter in the summer. Today a half dozen students lounge at tables. They sip drinks or munch on snacks. David Nelson sits and chats with a friend.
Nelson is a 37-year-old mechanic. He works for a local truck dealer and the Air Force National Guard. The father of two will graduate next year with a degree in management. Nelson says he's better off than younger students. He'll leave school only $3,000 in debt.
"Some of the newer kids coming out (will have higher student debt). Where I'm already established and already got a salary and another salary from my wife. It's going to be easy to pay mine back," says Nelson. "But a single person coming back is going to have a harder time with one income."
On the Moorhead campus, it's not uncommon for a student to leave college and work full time. They return when they have enough money to continue their education. Jaime Espelund is taking a break between classes and work. Espelund says a 15 percent increase in tuition is bad news.
"I'm not paying the bills right now, it's too hard," says Espelund. "I'm struggling at the moment unfortunately. I can't stop my schooling just because I can't pay my bills."
Espelund is 25-years-old. She's married but has no children. She works 40 hours a week. Her typical day starts at five o'clock in the morning and ends around midnight. Espelund says she'll work more hours or take out more loans so she can graduate next spring. She'll leave college $20,000 in debt.
Espelund worries about the future. She fears tuition increases will harm the long term health of the state.
"Without education, everything crumbles behind it. It's a domino effect that I believe will destroy our state," says Espelund. "What once was highly held with high standards of education and health care and the economy and the job market, is truly going to decline."
Minnesota State University - Moorhead officials say they have no choice but to raise tuition. They are not alone. There are 33 independent campuses in the MnSCU system. They're all proposing tuition increases.
Tom Weegar is the provost of the Rainy River Community College in International Falls. The school is the smallest in the MnSCU system with 847 students.
Weegar says the college has taken action to address the funding crunch.
"We've reduced some of our evening offerings," says Weegar. "We've cut our part-time instructors by a fair bit, making sure that our full-time instructors are carrying the load. Then we've had to cut some positions in the support staff area."
Weegar says the school is asking the Board of Trustees for a 15 percent tuition increase. He says even with the higher tuition, times will be tough.
The MnSCU Board of Trustees is scheduled to set tuition rates at its July meeting.