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December 28, 2010 1:22 PM State Colleges, Rising Cost

By Daniel Luzer

America’s public colleges and universities are starting to rethink the prices they charge students. Students will mostly not be helped by these new attitudes toward fees. According to an article by Clare Ansberry in the Wall Street Journal:

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents university executives, said in many cases schools were getting modest amounts of state funding but were subjected to a lot of oversight and regulation over tuition, hiring, procurement and capital projects. Regulations, such as purchasing only through state vendors, limit their ability to operate efficiently and get better prices, public universities say.
The rational, but politically complex solution, Mr. Hartle said, would be to let the schools operate more like private, independent units, a change that in some states requires legislative approval. “But state legislations and bureaucracies rarely given up anything without a struggle,” he said.

The problem here is that the opposition to tuition increases at public schools should not merely be the inertia of “state legislations and bureaucracies.” The opposition rightly comes from parents and families subject to these tuition hikes. When public colleges get more expensive, that’s bad for students. Period.

According to the article, officials from one Pennsylvania public college “say students from wealthier families could afford to pay more than the average $5,804 annual tuition at the state’s 14 universities. Fresh revenue from the higher tuition, they say, could be used to offer more scholarships to help the neediest students.”

How much of a tuition hike, and how much of a scholarship increase? That’s what’s important here.

Sure students can “afford” higher tuition but they end up paying for it by taking out more loans and placing greater financial sacrifices on their parents.

Maybe the state of Pennsylvania and its public colleges think that’s a convenient solution, but that’s not the way to get more Pennsylvanians through college.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer