Col­leges to hike tu­ition rather than cut spend­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Par­ents and stu­dents are brac­ing for a new round of sticker shock this fall as pub­lic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are hik­ing prices again, this time to make up for mas­sive cuts in state bud­gets.

Half of all states cut high­ere­d­u­ca­tion fund­ing in their fis­cal year 2012 spend­ing plans, some by hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

The Univer­sity Sys­tem of Wis­con­sin, for ex­am­ple, lost $125 mil­lion in state fund­ing. It re­sponded by rais­ing tu­ition 5.5 per­cent, which is ex­pected to gen­er­ate $37.5 mil­lion in ad­di­tional rev­enue to help plug the gap.

UW Sys­tem Pres­i­dent Kevin P. Reilly called the cut and sub­se­quent tu­ition hike “a tough pill to swal­low,” and UW may also in­crease class sizes, cut back on re­search, shrink studyabroad pro­grams and take other cost-cut­ting steps.

The story is the same at pub­lic sys­tems in Penn­syl­va­nia, Ari­zona, Wash­ing­ton, Florida, Ore­gon, Texas, Ge­or­gia and else­where.

The Univer­sity of Vir­ginia is rais­ing tu­ition 8.9 per­cent, Vir­ginia Tech by 9.2 per­cent. On the other side of the Po­tomac, the Univer­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land will raise tu­ition 3 per­cent at 11 of its 12 cam­puses. The ex­cep­tion is Sal­is­bury Univer­sity, where rates are go­ing up by 6 per­cent.

An in­for­mal sam­pling by The Wash­ing­ton Times of 17 pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions in 14 states, both in­di­vid­ual cam­puses and en­tire sys­tems, found an av­er­age in­crease of 9.8 per­cent, com­pared with fall 2010, with in­creases of about 20 per­cent at some.

With gen­eral in­fla­tion at just 3.6 per­cent over the past 12 months, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures from the Bu­reau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics, tight state bud­gets are the real cul­prits.

The Univer­sity of Michi­gan lost $47.5 mil­lion this fis­cal year, prompt­ing a tu­ition in­crease of 6.7 per­cent.

Lawmakers in New Hamp­shire chopped fund­ing for the state’s univer­sity sys­tem by $48.4 mil­lion, and school of­fi­cials re­sponded by rais­ing tu­ition at each of its five cam­puses. Penn State Univer­sity saw a $68 mil­lion cut, quickly fol­lowed by a 3.8 per­cent tu­ition in­crease.

But they pale in com­par­i­son with the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, which lost a whop­ping $650 mil­lion and will raise fall tu­ition rates by 18 per­cent.

Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, the state’s other pub­lic sys­tem and the nation’s largest with more than 400,000 stu­dents on 23 cam­puses, plans to in­crease prices by 22 per­cent, the Associated Press re­ported.

For state leg­is­la­tures, the choice isn’t easy, but lawmakers need to bal­ance the books some­how. Forty-nine states are con­sti­tu­tion­ally re­quired to stay in the black each year, and higher ed­u­ca­tion is of­ten a more ap­peal­ing tar­get than re­duc­ing fund­ing for cor­rec­tions or ser­vices for the el­derly and dis­abled.

“Leg­is­la­tures are start­ing to re­think higher ed,” said Richard Ved­der, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Col­lege Af­ford­abil­ity and Pro­duc­tiv­ity. “If they have a choice be­tween fund­ing for the el­derly or sub­si­diz­ing the up­per­mid­dle-class kid to go to col­lege [. . .], sub­si­diz­ing the mid­dle­class kid to go to col­lege is a lower pri­or­ity.”

While many states are also cut­ting K-12 ed­u­ca­tion, Mr. Ved­der ar­gued that car­ries much more po­lit­i­cal risk. School dis­tricts of­ten re­spond to fund­ing cuts by rais­ing taxes, while col­leges and univer­sity sys­tems re­spond by rais­ing tu­ition. Tax in­creases, even at the lo­cal level, get elected of­fi­cials in trou­ble. Tu­ition in­creases at col­leges usu­ally don’t.

“At the time the tu­ition goes up, it af­fects 2 [per­cent] or 3 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion,” Mr. Ved­der said.

“If taxes go up, it af­fects 100 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. The K-through-12 lobby among the peo­ple is vastly greater.”

Tu­ition in­creases are hardly new. Each year since 2000, the av­er­age price at a pub­lic, fouryear univer­sity has risen 5.6 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Col­lege Board Ad­vo­cacy and Pol­icy Cen­ter, which tracks prices and col­lege ac­cess.

De­spite that tra­jec­tory, many in­sti­tu­tions find it dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to start hand­ing out pink slips or shut down pro­grams and classes. Fa­cil­i­ties still get built, and tenured pro­fes­sors still get raises, no mat­ter how dire the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion be­comes, Mr. Ved­der said.

“Uni­ver­si­ties, faced with state bud­get cuts, can do two things: They can ac­tu­ally cut back a good bit on what they do and the amount of money they spend and make some real sav­ings,” he said. “But the stan­dard an­swer for ev­ery­thing is to raise tu­ition.

“Col­leges are loath to make real cuts. I don’t see con­certed ef­forts to cut costs, and the rea­son is there’s no in­cen­tive,” Mr. Ved­der said. “The way to get ahead, keep your job and make peo­ple happy is to spend money.”

Tu­ition in­creases usu­ally won’t sway a stu­dent’s de­ci­sion, es­pe­cially a stu­dent who bor­rows or re­lies heav­ily on Pell Grant or schol­ar­ship pro­grams, he added.

A sense of competition among col­leges of­ten com­pounds the prob­lem. Mr. Ved­der said univer­sity lead­ers are re­luc­tant to in­crease class sizes or cut ex­penses when their com­peti­tors are hir­ing more pro­fes­sors, of­fer­ing new pro­grams and build­ing a new foot­ball sta­dium.

Even­tu­ally, how­ever, stu­dents and par­ents may reach their break­ing point. For-profit in­sti­tu­tions and com­mu­nity col­leges have seen sig­nif­i­cant growth in the past few years as stu­dents seek cheaper al­ter­na­tives.

Some uni­ver­si­ties are re­al­iz­ing they must ad­just to a new nor­mal in terms of fund­ing. In a July 15 state­ment, Penn State’s board of trustees out­lined steps it is tak­ing, in ad­di­tion to the tu­ition in­crease, to re­duce costs.

The univer­sity rene­go­ti­ated health care ben­e­fits and prop­erty and li­a­bil­ity in­surance, froze salaries for fac­ulty and staff, and of­fered early re­tire­ment to some se­nior pro­fes­sors.

“We are de­ter­mined that our stu­dents and their fam­i­lies will not bear the full bur­den of the ap­pro­pri­a­tion cuts,” Penn State Pres­i­dent Graham B. Spanier said in the state­ment.

“The cost-cut­ting mea­sures we’re tak­ing in­volve sig­nif­i­cant sac­ri­fice on the part of the univer­sity com­mu­nity as a whole, but they’re be­ing done with the goal of al­low­ing stu­dents to con­tinue to pur­sue a Penn State ed­u­ca­tion.”

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