When University of Nebraska Regent Howard Hawks graduated with a degree in accounting in 1957, the cost of one year of tuition at UNL was $180.
Regent Elizabeth O’Connor, who left the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in 2012, paid $189.75 -- per credit hour.
The cost to students will rise again in each of the next two years after the Board of Regents approved consecutive 2.75% increases Friday, the fifth and sixth years in a row tuition has increased.
In-state students pursuing an undergraduate degree at UNL can expect to pay $252 per credit hour in the 2019-20 school year, or about $7,500 for an average course load of 30 credit hours, while in-state students at UNO can expect to pay more than $6,800.
Students at NU’s campus in Kearney as well as its medical center in Omaha and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis will also pay more in tuition next year.
Those costs do not include student fees, which regents also voted to raise next year, nor do they include the cost of housing and books.
NU President Hank Bounds said despite asking students and their families to pay more in each of the next two years, tuition rates across the university will continue to be roughly 20% less than each campus' peer institutions.
“As someone who paid for every penny of his college education, I don’t bring a tuition increase to you without some great pain,” Bounds said before the unanimous vote to raise tuition rates.
Board Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln said NU is attempting to maintain “a delicate balance” between accessibility to Nebraska students and quality programs that attract them.
“We have a duty on the one hand to maintain affordability and be cost conscious for our students in keeping tuition at that affordable level,” Clare said. “We also have a duty to provide those students with a top-quality education.”
Regent Paul Kenney of Amherst said while raising tuition prices to Nebraska wasn’t ideal, they were necessary.
“It isn’t rocket science,” he said. “You either have to cut programs and people or raise tuition.”
The additional tuition revenue will be paired with a 3% increase to NU’s state appropriations over the next biennium, powering a $990 million operating budget this year that includes more money for faculty and staff salaries as well as increased operational and infrastructure costs.
“This is not a growth budget,” Bounds told the board, adding the 2.2% budget growth covers the cost of inflation.
In an interview earlier this week, Bounds said the overall cost to deliver postsecondary education and a shrinking proportion of state investment has traditionally forced tuition rates to outpace the consumer price index.
Since 2000, NU’s portion of the state budget has shrunk from about 21% to 13%. During that same time, the cost per credit hour for in-state students at UNL has risen from $87.25 to $252, according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics.
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NU has done what it can to control costs, Bounds said, spending $1,000 less per student today than it did in 2000, employing a similar number of people as it did nearly two decades ago even though enrollment has grown to record levels.
And, Bounds added, students rarely pay the full sticker price. On average, the university remits between 25% and 30% of the tuition costs to students.
“I think there’s also a story there that we’re doing something right,” he said.
Rising college costs are nothing new. Between 1949 and 1962, as U.S. soldiers returning from World War II and the Korean War began utilizing the benefits of the G.I. Bill, the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities in the U.S. ballooned by 85%.
William Strain, an Indiana University associate registrar who penned a series of how-to articles for families to save in order to send their children to college for newspapers across the country in 1962 said even with the price hikes, a college education was still worth it.
“You know that a college education is the soundest investment on the market,” Strain wrote.
More recently, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found the average tuition inflation was 7% between 1980 and 2005, due in part to changes in labor costs, a loss of state appropriations and higher demand from students seeking to boost their earning potential.
Since 2005, however, the Federal Reserve study found tuition inflation has declined to about 2 percent per year, which is still higher than the average annual inflation rate for the cost of all goods and services.
NU regents on Friday said while they understood the hardship higher tuition rates place upon students and their families, they believed the increases were justified this year.
By next year, roughly 7 out of 10 jobs in Nebraska are expected to require some educational attainment beyond high school, according to an oft-cited study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
The same research group found that 9 out of 10 jobs created in 2017 were filled by college graduates, showing the American economy is becoming more reliant on a trained workforce.
While UNL student Regent Emily Johnson, a Lincoln native, said she understood the need to raise tuition costs, she framed the increases differently for her duly elected colleagues on the board.
The $210 increase to one year of tuition was equal to an additional billable hour for the attorneys who serve on the board -- there are four -- or an additional 45 minutes with a patient for the medical professionals who work at UNMC.
For students like herself, however, the $210 increase meant working an additional three days a year at a part-time job earning minimum wage of $9.
To compensate, Johnson said university leaders should also commit to working three more days on behalf of students next year, whether that be on campus or at the Legislature, to keep tuition prices as reasonable as possible in the future.