Even during a recession, universities still find reasons to raise tuition.
This year, a semester of education at Auburn University for in-state students costs $3,462.
That is a 6 percent increase from last year, and it only applies to students taking between 12 and 15 hours.
Tuition and fees at private universities rose an average of 4.3 percent this year, the lowest hike in 37 years, according to The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
Auburn’s tuition increased 3 to 4 percent less than other in-state public universities of equal caliber, said Mike Reynolds, the executive director of Student Financial Services.
“When tuition has to increase, it is generally because of inflation,” Reynolds said. “Auburn really worked hard to keep the tuition as low as possible. (A) 6 percent (increase) was very minimal.”
The state appropriates a portion of its budget each year for higher education. During a recession, these funds are liable to be cut.
In the 2009 fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1, the state allocated 27.6 percent of its budget for higher education.
This amount was decreased to 27.3 percent for the 2010 fiscal year, said Gina Smith, the director of public affairs for the Alabama Department of Finance.
That is a .3 percent decrease from the amount that was allocated last year.
While this may not seem like a large number, there are 15 public universities, 26 public two-year colleges and 17 private universities in Alabama.
Education funds are split 58 different ways, even though private institutions typically receive less state funds than public universities.
“For Auburn to make up the difference in the budget cuts that we took (from the state), we would have had to increase tuition by 25 percent,” Reynolds said.
But rather than do that, the University found another way to cut operating costs.
Instead, each administrative office took cuts on supplies, purchases, new staff and raises.
“This is the second year of all employees not getting raises,” Reynolds said. “When the appropriations aren’t there, raises don’t come.”
The University is probably dependent on the state for around half of its budget, Ault said.
“We have referred to Auburn University, at times, as a state university and a state-supported university, and I think it’s becoming more of a state-supported university,” Ault said.
When state appropriations are cut, the source of that money has to be shifted elsewhere.
In most cases, that burden lands on students in the form of tuition.
“On the one hand, they are trying to raise or at least maintain their national rankings, and one of the ways those rankings are calculated are the number of students per faculty member,” Ault said. “To meet those qualifications, they are having to hire more and more highly qualified and therefore highly paid faculty members.”
Another way the University could cut costs is to cut back on maintenance spending, therefore freeing up money to spend on educational expenses and reducing the amount the students have to pay.
“There are a number of ways (to reduce costs),” Ault said. “All of them are painful, and some of them will have the tendency of reducing the quality of their product.”
Reynolds said each college or school had to make their own sacrifices to make up for budget cuts without decreasing the quality of education.
The entire University had to work together to keep costs low this year, and to keep a balanced budget, Reynolds said.
“We increased by 6 percent,” Reynolds said. “That was the students’ contribution.”
Reynolds said everyone involved with the creation of the budget, including trustees, were pleased with the 6 percent increase.
“And it was very evident to them, everybody pitched in,” Reynolds said. “The 6 percent increase shows that this is a total Auburn University effort to make this work.”