So… Tuition

So, this whole tuition increase business has piqued my interest. I feel like as someone who will be totally unaffected by these proposed increases (being a senior and all), I can offer my opinion on the subject without being caught up in the hurricane of emotion that seems to have enveloped the issue.

Let’s the consider the increase just on its face. A 15.6% increase for in-state students and a 6.5% increase for out-of-state students. The Consumer Price Index (core) for 2011 (year over year) currently sits at 2.1%. The Higher Education Price Index (which, incidentally is the index used to calculate fee increases) for 2011 is 2.3%. So, it’s worth asking the question why such large tuition increases (over inflation) are necessary. While the General Assembly did cut the education budget this year, I feel like their expectation was that the university would reciprocate and cut out some of the fat from its budget (maybe some of the “centers” and other things on campus that don’t contribute very much to the academic mission of the university).  It looks like raising tuition on students is merely an easy way out for the administration and saves them the trouble of having to make the “hard” choices. After all, it’s much easier to raise tuition than to fire people.

The structure of the increases is also curious. Why such a large increase for in-state students (who, with their parents, pay taxes to support the university), while such relatively small increases for out-of-state students? Why is the in-state increase more than double the out-of-state increase? I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, but considering that the university’s traditional role has been to provide an education to the people of North Carolina for “as close to free as possible,” the way that these increases are being distributed across the student body is quite odd.

And let’s consider what the increase will be spent on. From what I can tell, the new money will be spent primarily on faculty salary raises and financial aid. Raising tuition to pay for financial aid is quite strange. In effect, you’re increasing your prices so that you can give money to other people who can’t afford to pay your prices. It’s a classic redistributionist scheme. And then there’s the issue of salaries. I don’t know if the administration’s noticed but there’s a recession going on out there. Lots of people don’t even have jobs, and most of the ones that do haven’t gotten raises in a while. So, I’m not really sure that this should be a priority at the moment. Raising tuition by 15.6% (a fair amount of which will probably end up being paid via loans which students will then have the privilege of paying off for the rest of their lives) to hand out pay raises in such a depressed job market hardly seems like a good investment.

So, it doesn’t seem like these tuition increases are really worth it. What the university ought to do is own up to the fact that the golden days of ever-increasing budgets are over, and do what every other governmental entity (with the exception of the federal government) on earth has been doing for the last few years: make real, hard cuts.

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