Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tuition Rising

Tucson, Arizona. (I won't name him, but I used to work with this math professor at the U of A. Great guy.) University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton delivered his State of the University address this week. On Thursday he proposed a 9.3% tuition increase for undergraduates. The suggestion does not surprise those involved in higher education and it continues a dynamic that has been in place for some time.

Sparring the reader the long version, prior to WWII, not too many people went to college, and they didn't have to. After WWII, the GI Bill sent unprecedented numbers off to get their bachelor's degrees. Then the Soviet Union put Sputnik in orbit, which put Washington in orbit. President Lyndon Johnson actually paid more than lip service to Civil Rights and then in 1965, we passed the Higher Education Act, and the notion that everyone had the right to attend college was born.

KEY DISTINCTION: We viewed college and the education of the public as a PUBLIC GOOD to be subsidized and supported by the government. We built community colleges faster than cars and no one spoke against the idea that "everyone deserves a good education" and MOST CERTAINLY every talented person, regardless of income, should go to college, hopefully in something technical to help us fight the Russians.

Then something started to change, and while I won't say Reagan caused it, he certainly served as a catalyst. We still love to pay lip service to education, especially K-12, but in terms of higher education, the underlying theme has shifted dramatically. The Cold War is over, and while obtaining a higher education has become more critical than ever, our public sentiment pays it lip service but adopts a different policy underneath.

KEY SHIFT: Underneath, "we" now view education as a private good that benefits the student, not society. Therefore, the student should pay for it, not society, and that is what is happening across the country. The event is not an Arizona event. Every public flagship is increasing tuition at rates exceeding inflation because they have to in order to meet their commitments.

Want low tuition for everybody? Sure? Should Arizona millionaires get to send their kids to the University of Arizona for subsidized education at taxpayer expense, or quite realistically, get to send them almost for free on account of scholarships and merit aid?

I scratch the surface of the surface of the surface. Tuition is rising across the country. On many fronts and in many areas, the notion of a government providing services for its citizens has been butchered in this country. President Shelton is doing his job, and as far as I can tell, doing it very well.

Those upset with rising tuition should direct their protests towards elected officials, not university presidents.


Blogger Eli Blake said...

A big part of the problem isn't just about not providing aid for students. It is about not building enough universities themselves.

The population continues to increase and the truth is that there are a lot of very capable students who don't get accepted into universities not because they can't handle the work, but rather because there is a lack of seating.

Given that the demand outstrips the supply, the universities have essentially to balance two not always compatible ways of prioritizing students: 1. Giving priority to those who have the strongest academic qualifications(possibly with an eye towards diversity) vs.
2. Giving priority to those students who can pay the most (i.e. require the least assistance and in the end provide the most funds to the institution.)

In an academic environment to come right out and say you are making a move towards option (2) at the expense of option (1) is politically and socially unacceptable.

Hence the universities, if they choose to make this move, do so by raising tuition or some other method which has that effect without coming right out and saying that they are making a change towards enrolling more students from wealthy families.

The solution to this is (and ASU to its credit seems to recognize this, though sometimes with little help from the legislature) to construct more public universities and then fund them fully, in order to make just getting into college less difficult.

What happened to 'a mind is a terrible thing to waste?'

11/10/2007 8:27 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...


If you have received no training in the subject, a very good comment that is pretty sound.

Enrollment management is my thing. The economics are a little more complicated with increasing stratification of higher education and income melts from top private elites to top public flagships to middle publics to community colleges. You are right that enrollment levels keep climbing, but more due to rising portions of HS grads trying to at least get a two year degree than rising population, although, yes, we now face the echo boom (children of baby boomers) that will increase numbers until about 2015.

Enrollment management balances three factors: 1) diversity both ethnicity and gender, 2) average academic merit and minimal numbers of exceptional students, and 3) net tuition revenue obtained by admitting wealthy and or out of state and international students that provide premium payments into the coffers.

The three conflict and the job of managing the task is very complex. Remember, just admitting someone doesn't mean they enroll. Also, admitting someone who flunks on impact is no good.

I could write a dissertation on the subject. Oh wait.

I am.

11/10/2007 8:51 PM  
Blogger Dustin said...

I just thought that it was because more students were trying to attend. I can tell you this however, GI bill by itself is becoming more and more not enough.

on a side note, it seems like you either have a college degree, or you are busing tables. We can't all get free rides via grants/scholarships etc. So what happened to those jobs that paid well, but didn't require a crapload of debt to obtain?

11/10/2007 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its a bigger problem than even these fantastic posts get at. A few things. Arizona is now second to last in aid to students...we make West Virginia look really really good. By the way, last place goes to Wyoming...not the kind of state we tend to mirror, do you think?

Second, there is a big big problem a comin...its actually here. A massive generation of students is hitting college now through 10-15 years from now. At the same time, university faculty and staff are aging and retiring. Who will fill that gap to teach all these students? An additional problem this creates is that it will be MUCH more expensive to hire and retain faculty and staff. Making education MORE expensive. We will also have to expand the physical plant of the universities to meet this demand...NOT cheap.

Next, the point Eli makes is right on. We only have 3 universities and system of community colleges to fill this demand.

Last, we live in a state where taxing or spending on education is considered some kind of third rail.

If I didn't care so much about access to higher education, I would be rooting for 15% increases until the middle classers in this state and students beat on the doors of the legislature to finally do what other states do already...

I wonder if students will finally just say "screw it" and go out of state.


11/11/2007 10:08 AM  
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