Phi Beta Cons

States Search for Workarounds to Tuition Crisis

Because of federal higher education subsidization, colleges and universities have dramatically ratcheted up tuition in recent decades. Adding to that problem are onerous regulations (which increase schools’ compliance and administrative costs) and lavish spending on recreation centers and upscale dorms. Over time, such costs have been, for the most part, passed on to students and taxpayers.

States are not sitting idly by, however. As Stephanie Keaveney reports in today’s Pope Center feature, several state legislatures have adopted “guaranteed tuition plans” that set tuition at a fixed rate for incoming in-state students. The idea is that, by minimizing the impact of rising tuition, more students will stay in school, graduate on time, and experience less financial stress.

Unfortunately, the results have not been very good. Student success has not increased as expected and, because of state budget issues, university systems have found that being locked-in to a guaranteed tuition program can backfire; a budget shortfall combined with reduced tuition flexibility can spell catastrophe. Keaveney concludes, “Legislators and the public must be cautious about jumping on the bandwagon of a potentially damaging financial scheme in the name of affordability and student success.”

Jesse SaffronJesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...

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