Tuition hike at MU highest for veterinary medicine, specialized law degrees

Friday, April 30, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 5:01 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 3, 2010

*CORRECTION: The MU School of Law's dispute resolution program has been ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the ranking.

COLUMBIA — He commutes to school by plane.

It’s a weekly routine for Randy Hoerschgen. He wakes up in his home in Mandeville, La., on a weekend morning, flies to Columbia and takes two long Monday classes. He's home again by Tuesday.

The law mediator and arbitrator is pursuing an advanced master's of law degree in dispute resolution  — called an LL.M— through the MU School of Law.

The program has been instrumental, Hoerschgen said, in providing experience and skills he can use at his dispute resolution firm, NorthShore ADR, which is a consultant for a department in a New Orleans hospital.

Next year, tuition and fees for new MU students entering that same one-year LL.M program will increase by 19 percent. In-state tuition and fees will be about $14,735, up from about $12,541. Out-of-state and international tuition and fees will be about $28,165, up from about $23,768.

It was the second largest bump in professional school tuition set two weeks ago by the UM System Board of Curators.

The largest was in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, where out-of-state tuition and fees for incoming veterinary medicine students will increase from $33,496 to $43,496.

The tuition hikes at the law and veterinary medicine schools affect a relatively small number of students.

Neil Olson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, said the college anticipates about 50 out-of-state students next year. In-state tuition for veterinary medicine students will remain the same. Olson said even though the college could have recommended an increase in in-state tuition, administrators chose not to.

“We wanted to honor the spirit of what (Nixon) is suggesting,” Olson said.

The state is expected to keep higher education cuts under 5.2 percent in next year's budget, allowing institutions to continue a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates.

The LL.M is a unique and highly specialized degree pursued by about 15 to 20 people per year, said Lawrence Dessem, dean of the Law School. This is a small group compared to the 450 or so seeking a regular law degree through the school’s three-year program.

Dessem said he and other administrators “spread the pain of cuts across the school" in their tuition recommendations to administration for next year. Current LL.M and regular law student tuition and fees at the MU School of Law will increase by 5 percent; the 19 percent increase only applies to incoming LL.M students.

Hoerschgen, who moved from Missouri to New Orleans in January, said that even if he were an incoming student next year, he is confident the LL.M program is worth the money and his travel time. 

Valerie Chaffin agreed. She came to MU with the hope of using her alternative dispute resolution degree to help her start a nonprofit children’s advocacy clinic in North Carolina.

As an out-of-state student, MU's price was lower than Chaffin's other choice, Pepperdine University in California, and rounded out nonprofit management skills she would need for her career. Pepperdine's program is $40,320.

Chaffin said she also was impressed that the Law School continued to expand its career services staff. Last week, the university granted the Law School a new career services professional position that the school will fill this summer, Dessem said.

This came on the heels of student concerns that the Law School's career services need serious improvements. These concerns were raised at a recent meeting held in response to the Law School's drop in the 2011 Best Graduate School rankings from U.S. News & World Report.

"That showed me that the Law School is putting the future of their students before everyone else," Chaffin said. "That's a pretty gutsy move, and it's nice to see."

Olson said another draw for MU is that Missouri allows students to gain in-state residency after a year.

Jessica Howard, a second-year veterinary medicine student, said the majority of her classmates take advantage of establishing residency and pay in-state tuition. Howard said a student should look at tuition as being hard for the first year but worth it in the long run.

“Even with that extra $10,000, Missouri would still be cheaper than a lot of the other schools I looked at,” said Howard, who also looked at schools such as the University of Illinois and Ohio State University. Out-of-state tuition per year at these institutions is $37,704 and $55,376, respectively.

Both Dessem and Olson said they do not think enrollment will be affected by tuition increases.

Dessem attributes enrollment stability to MU's competitiveness in price and education to alternative law schools. Although he did not cite it, the U.S. News & World Report just ranked the dispute resolution program at MU second* in the country.

Olson echoed this point for the Veterinary Medicine School.

“Even though 31 percent sounds like an extraordinary jump, when you look at underlying facts, it’s not that much,” Olson said.

Incoming MU veterinary medicine student Chris Lutton doesn't think it's much, either. Originally from Omaha, Neb., Lutton established residency as an MU undergraduate. He will not pay out-of-state tuition but said the ease in which students can obtain residency makes the tuition hike less drastic.

Senior Jordan Mason will face the 5 percent increase when she starts at the MU School of Law this fall. An in-state student, she said she thinks MU's price was reasonable and the program reputable. She said the people she knows entering the Law School next year are unconcerned or unaware of the tuition increase.

"It's an investment that's going to pay off," Mason said.

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