The Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday approved Northern Arizona University’s first-ever “block tuition” plan that locks in tuition for four years for new full-time freshmen and transfer students.

Beginning with the fall 2008 semester, new in-state freshmen and transfer students will pay an annual tuition of $5,145, which is 12 percent more than current in-state tuition. That tuition rate would remain the same for the following three years. New out-of-state freshmen and transfer students would pay $16,243 per year, which is 14 percent more than current out-of-state tuition. The out-of-state tuition rate also is guaranteed for the next three years.

The regents also approved NAU’s health and wellness fee that would be phased in over four years. The fee had received widespread student support.

The block tuition not only brings predictability to planning for college expenses but also encourages students to stay at Northern Arizona University and graduate, said NAU President John Haeger.

“Students have enormous incentive to finish in four years,” he said.

Continuing students will see tuition at a rate 7 percent above current tuition. This tuition rate would apply to continuing in-state, out-of-state, undergraduate and graduate students at the Flagstaff campus as well as graduate students and non-resident undergraduates at statewide sites.

The university asked for a 5 percent increase for new and continuing resident undergraduate students at the university’s statewide sites.

“This tuition proposal is about the quality of the institution and the quality of the degrees that students receive,” Haeger told the regents.

The health and wellness fee, endorsed by the Associated Students of NAU and supported in a campuswide student survey, will improve the delivery of health and recreation services. This includes construction of a new health and wellness center and significant expansion of recreational facilities and fields.

Students currently pay a $40 per semester health and recreation fee. The approved plan will increase that semester fee by $25 in fall 2008. The subsequent per semester increases will be $80 in fall 2009, $65 in fall 2010 and $40 in fall 2011.

The fee will provide for additional health-care staffing; five new recreational fields with artificial turfs, lights and restrooms; improvements to the Fieldhouse recreational facilities; construction of 26,500 feet of space for weight and fitness use; and construction of a 42,600-square-foot addition to the Recreation Center. The facility will replace the university’s 40-year-old health center and become a Recreation, Health and Wellness Center, providing physical health, mental health, rehabilitation and recreational services.

“Academic success is related to the health and wellness of the student body,” Haeger told the regents.

In addition to the tuition increase, the regents voted to increase from 14 percent to 15 percent the amount of resident undergraduate tuition that is set aside by universities for need-based financial aid for the 2008-09 academic year.

The regents’ votes on university tuition and mandatory fees followed considerable discussion about whether tuition levels should be set contingent upon a requested level of funding from the state.

Some regents expressed concern that such a strategy could be interpreted as the regents abdicating their tuition-setting responsibility. Some regents also were concerned about the predicted lean budget year for the state of Arizona.

In the end the regents approved all three university tuition proposals.

In other action, the regents approved NAU’s request to increase its graduate student matriculation fee from $10 to $25.