LINCOLN — University of Nebraska students will pay more to live on campus next year after the NU Board of Regents voted 6-2 Friday to approve housing rate increases for its four campuses with student residence halls.
Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Kearney will be hardest hit. The vote adds $410 to the annual cost of a double room in a traditional residence hall at UNL and $396 to the cost of a room with a full meal plan at UNK.
For UNL undergraduates from Nebraska, the cost of living in the dorms — $9,532 — will exceed the $7,934 cost of tuition and fees for students carrying a 15-hour credit load per semester. Resident undergraduate tuition is proposed to be frozen at 2012-13 rates next year.
Regents Hal Daub of Omaha and Jim Pillen of Columbus voted against the proposed housing increase. Daub said he lacked enough information about how the increase was calculated and why it was needed.
Pillen said he feared the increase would send the wrong message to the public and the Legislature about NU's efforts to control costs. He said it seemed hypocritical to agree to a tuition freeze yet raise housing costs.
"I think we have to show some good faith we're going to tighten our belt," he said. "I have great confidence that can be done."
Regent Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek said he would rely on the expertise of other regents and NU administrators on the amount of the increase. The former state senator noted that the proposed tuition freeze is contingent upon the Legislature's providing more money to support NU's academic program. The state is not providing more money to cover room and board costs.
UNL Housing Director Sue Gildersleeve said the rate increase is driven to a great extent by debt incurred over the past decade as UNL updated its housing stock, most of which dated to the 1950s and '60s.
Since 2004, UNL has added two apartment-style complexes and one suite-style complex, with two more suite-style buildings under construction. Nearly all of the existing residence halls have been updated. Old-style cafeterias have been replaced with food-court-like dining halls.
She said UNL ranks eighth among the Big Ten's 12 universities in housing costs. In 2011, costs ranged from $13,329 at Northwestern University to $8,000 at the University of Minnesota.
With an enrollment dip at UNL this year, the number of students living in the residence halls dropped from 6,008 in fall 2011 to 5,747 in fall 2012. UNL's residence halls have a capacity of about 7,000.
Chancellor Harvey Perlman said attractive and welcoming residence halls help with recruiting and play a crucial role in student retention and improved graduation rates.
Gildersleeve described a number of initiatives under way to boost occupancy: more "learning communities" where students with similar interests or backgrounds live and study together; extra services to help international students adapt; more suite-style units to encourage upperclassmen to stay on campus; even arranging for fraternity and sorority members to return to the residence halls should their on-campus Greek houses be full.
Perlman mentioned the possibility of developing housing scholarships to help recruit students, an idea also suggested by Regent Howard Hawks of Omaha.
Other costs approved Friday:
University of Nebraska at Kearney: Double-occupancy room and full meal plan will cost $8,334, up 5 percent.
University of Nebraska at Omaha: Costs will range from $5,400 for a nine-month contract at Scott Court to $6,840 for a 12-month contract at Maverick Village apartments, the newest housing.
Nebraska School for Technical Agriculture at Curtis: Per-semester costs will range from $1,302 for double room with no private bath to $2,334 for a two-person suite. Meal plans are extra.
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