Should Colleges Start Reducing Tuition?

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The east campus of Duke University in Durham, NC. Photo, public domain.

The east campus of Duke University in Durham, NC. Photo, public domain.

There are three expenses in life which never seem to go down, only up. They are: taxes, health insurance and college tuition. There are probably a number of other ones, but these three are worthy of a mention because of the significant impact each one has on the family budget.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect our elected officials to “get it” when it comes to taxes though on the state and local level many politicians actually do. Health insurance continues to spiral upwards in part because of government mandates and also because of a lack of competition. But college tuition? When do you ever hear of that going down?

Higher Education Means Higher Tuition

For decades now most schools have been raising tuition year in and year out. Not so much to keep up with the cost of living, but to double it. Check your tuition bill out over the four years you were in school and likely yours went up noticeably year in and year out. Some state schools managed to hold the line, but if you attended a private school 8-10% increases were the norm.

We’re in the toughest financial crisis this country has seen in a generation. Droves of students are leaving school because they cannot afford to pay tuition along with room and board. Even with FAFSA, scholarships, grants, and other savings schemes included, many students are leaving school heavily in debt while others simply give up and quit.

If The Private Sector Can Cut Costs Why Not Colleges?

Just like the private sector, I believe that academia should begin to whack tuition too. Not just a few bucks here and there,  but thousands of dollars each academic year. Businesses live or die on managing their bottom line, why not the same for institutions of higher learning?

Of course, most university administrators are not tasked with cutting things, rather they’re on the job to expand their realm. Few seem to be true business men, looking at ways to trim costs while maintaining a profit. Given that, I’ve come up with several ways schools can save money and pass those savings back to students in the form of significant tuition savings:

Play Ball! — Sacred to most schools are their sports programs. Unfortunately, some programs drain the life blood out of the school or rely upon men’s and women’s basketball and football to prop them up. Instead, why not reduce the number of sports to a handful? Yes, Title IX can weigh in, but if you cut the same number of men’s and women’s programs then that wi’ll work. As far as the big, profitable programs go, as long as they pay for themselves they can stay on.

Flat Rate — Instead of charging per credit, I would love to see more schools adopt a flat charge for each semester no matter how many credits a full time student takes. Those who take twelve credits a semester will soon understand that taking fifteen is much more cost effective. And, those students who can carry a heavy load can take eighteen credits while paying for a rate based on fifteen credits.

Merge Schools — Some of the smaller, private schools exist solely because families continue to pony up the $40-50,000 each academic year. This cannot be sustained across the board. Instead, geographically close schools can share some programs, even merge operations. Minimally, all schools can join together to purchase supplies, negotiate contracts, share equipment, etc.

Online Discount — Any student taking a class with an accredited university online should receive an immediate ten percent discount. These students don’t burn the school’s utilities, park on campus, use the library or make any other demands on essential services. Thus, the school should reward these students for their environmental stewardship and recompense them accordingly. Is this another form of financial aid? In a round about way!

Finish Fast — I mentioned this yesterday whereby Hartwick College and some other schools are making it easier for students to get their degrees in three years instead of four. Not many students can handle a heavy class load, but what schools can do is accept college credits earned while in high school and count those toward graduation. This would encourage students to take more AP classes which should be counted towards college.

Free Advice — Take What You Can

Do I think most schools will take my advice? No. Do I think that some may consider my ideas? Yes. But, as long as the pressure is off of administrators to provide the best possible education for a competitive rate, then nothing will convince them to make important changes.

Then again, students and their families can vote with their feet, choosing to attend those schools which are sensitive to the financial pressures facing Americans while avoiding those who look at life out from their ivory towers.

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Categories: Commentary