The Tuition Question

Public universities face a couple of perennial questions: Should they follow a “low-tuition/low-aid” model (in which the state subsidizes even rich kids by charging them relatively little — but saves by not having to provide extensive need-based scholarships)? Or a “high-tuition/high-aid” model in which the state helps those who can’t pay the high price by increasing need-based aid?

Traditionally, most states have followed the low-tuition model, which is one reason why 75 percent of all students attend public universities. On the other hand, tuition has been rising so rapidly that it is hard to call spending $16,140 a year on tuition, fees, and room and board a “low-tuition” model (that’s Kiplinger’s national average for public universities).

In North Carolina the tuition debate is particularly heated. UNC–Chapel Hill prides itself on being the “best value” in Kiplinger’s every year, but the pressure is on to increase tuition and fees dramatically at several UNC schools. This is in spite of the state constitution’s provision that higher education should be free “as far as practicable” to the state’s residents. In a comment, I argue that the best way to keep tuition low is to cut costs – a remedy that usually goes unmentioned in higher-ed circles.

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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