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Tuition set by NMU Board of Trustees

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University is using a combination of investments, university and federal aid, as well as cost-saving efforts, to address tuition rates, coronavirus safety concerns and uncertain fiscal year 2021 state funding.

The strategy could amount to a zero net increase for many students for the fall semester.

“We have a responsibility for the financial stability of this institution,” said NMU Finance Committee Chairman and Trustee Steve Young, who acknowledged the tuition increase is coming at a difficult time but is important for the university to move forward while being fiscally responsible.

The NMU Board of Trustees on Tuesday increased tuition $215 per semester for resident undergrads, or 3.71%. However, two grants could effectively lower that amount to $0 for the fall.

Young said the hope is to continue this zero net increase for the winter semester.

The board also approved a recommendation to reallocate some institutional financial aid so that each student receives a $100 COVID-19 NMU-funded grant applied automatically to a student’s billing statement.

Northern also has created a $115 CARES Act-II grant program for eligible students, using remaining federal stimulus money it received through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

This spring, NMU offered CARES Act grants of up to $700 to eligible students to help offset financial disruptions students suffered due to the pandemic. Like the first set of CARES grants, the CARES Act-II grants must be distributed directly to students and not be applied to a billing statement.

However, unlike the first set of grants, NMU will automatically process the grants for all returning students who are eligible, with no application necessary.

Steve Mitchell, board of trustees chairman, called the tuition decision an “excellent solution to a difficult problem.”

“This is a very complex subject,” Mitchell said. “We’re looking at some real financial difficulties for the university but we’re also very mindful of the fact that almost every county in the Upper Peninsula has deep financial problems, as does Michigan with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country in the top four or five.”

NMU President Fritz Erickson said it was important to keep the increase minimal because the university understands the financial burden the pandemic has put on students and their families.

“However, we have also been strategizing on how to address safety concerns and uncertain fiscal year 2021 state funding,” Erickson said.

Northern has invested more than $2 million in COVID-19-related safety measures, which is enabling students to return to face-to-face instruction. These include COVID testing for students and employees; new testing equipment for the NMU Health Center; health care staff for quarantine/isolation areas; and protective equipment and products.

The average tuition and fees cost for full-time resident undergraduates will be $6,011 per semester. The non-resident undergraduate rate rose by the same percentage as for resident students. Graduate program tuition increased by $21 per credit.

Global Campus tuition rose $17 per credit. To financially help Global Campus students — who are not eligible to receive CARES Act funding — Northern is waiving the $50 per credit distance learning fee, which it also did for the two summer sessions. This will result in a net decrease per credit hour for the fall semester of $33 per credit.

“We wanted to help our online students, who have also faced COVID-19 disruptions,” Erickson said. “Obviously the costs the fee supports haven’t gone away, but we decided to address them in an alternative manner for now.”

To view NMU’s tuition, room and board, and other fees, visit nmu.edu/tuition. Fall billing statements will be posted to student accounts the week of July 13, with bills sent July 17.

The due date is Aug. 7. Information about payment plans is available at nmu.edu/paymentplans.

Faculty ratifies contract

The NMU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors ratified a one-year contract on Tuesday, with about 80% of its members voting in favor of the contract.

The contract gives NMU administration the option of requiring one furlough day each month and reduced compensation for teaching overloads and summer courses.

According to NMU-AAUP President Dwight Brady, the cuts amount to over $1.5 million. The ratified contract now awaits approval from the NMU Board of Trustees.

“When we started this process, we wanted to have a five-year contract,” Brady said following the vote. “That’s what we had in our last contract from 2015 to 2020, and we were well on our way to getting that five-year deal with some modest pay increases. But then along comes COVID-19, and that changed all the metrics for how we would figure the financials, and we really had fight tooth and nail to get a contract that membership could agree on and support.”

So, a one-year deal was formed.

Brady realizes many people are out of work and furloughed, and businesses are shuttered.

“We’re willing to do our part here as a faculty and come back to fight another day,” he said.

Going forward, Brady acknowledged the union would want another five-year contract but would accept another one-year contract if necessary.

“We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with the COVID-19 crisis,” Brady said.

Brady noted NMU-AAUP members will continue to volunteer their time this summer to help the university reopen with face-to-face classes starting on Aug. 17. Precautions have been taken to allow older or immunocompromised faculty the opportunity to teach their classes online during the 2020-21 academic year.

Brady also addressed the NMU Board of Trustees at its regular Tuesday meeting.

“We don’t necessarily look forward to getting back to the table in a few months, but we do look forward to working with you in a spirit of shared governance and mutual respect,” Brady said.

The one-year agreement demonstrates the chapter’s willingness, he said, to make short-term sacrifices as the COVID-19 crisis is navigated, while at the same time, preserves the long-term investments that it believes are essential for recruiting and retaining top-tier faculty.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about labor, it is about talent, and the level of talent we put in front of our students each and every day will have a major impact on NMU’s ability to successfully move forward into the 21st century,” Brady said.

Part of that success, he pointed out, will depend on contingent faculty members, who make up about 20% of the union’s members.

Also speaking to the board on that issue was Jamie Kuehnl, a contingent faculty member who teaches gender studies and Native American studies.

Kuehnl said contingent faculty are in a “precarious” position, not knowing if they will receive a contract, sometimes “not until the last possible moment.”

Kuehnl said she has taught 23.95 credits a year on average for the last 10 years, but her annual earnings regularly fall below the federal poverty level.

Her story, she stressed, is not unique, but some simple actions could have a big impact: recognition of years of service to NMU and getting rid of the idea that part-time equates to temporary.

“The longevity of our positions proves not only our successes in the classroom and in our scholarship but also our deep dedication to this university, to the truly amazing students who are drawn here as well as an abiding love for teaching,” Kuehnl said.

Erickson said in a statement that NMU is pleased with the contract ratification.

“The students of NMU are the beneficiaries of an amazing and talented faculty and we will move forward together to safely welcome back our students for fall semester,” Erickson said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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