So… Tuition

CRDaily

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.

Wait, We get to Save $10? What’s the Catch?

CRDaily

GREAT NEWS GUYS! We, as students will be paying so much less next year according to the associate provost and co-chairman of the student fee advisory committee, Dwayne Pinkney, and the Daily Tar Heel. We are saving $10.41 in student fees. Wait what? No, do not look over at the unprecedented 40% increase in tuition (almost $3000!) that in-state students could very well experience next year. And definitely do not look at the once-defeated sales tax (which aims to suck an additional $2.5 million out of the pockets of Orange County residents) that the Orange County Democrats are trying to sneak into “the books” with an off-year referendum.
Putting away the sarcasm and being overly fair to the DTH, they did cursorily mention the massive tuition increase in the closing sentences of the article (I might add that this mention came well off the front page, where all the praise for reduced fees was seen). The simple fact is, however, that the students of Chapel Hill are going to experience an increase in their expenses if either of these proposals is implemented.
The tuition increase would have the greatest effect on UNC students, so I will address it first. Carolina attracted one of the most competitive incoming freshman classes in recent history because we offered an amazing education at one of the best prices in the country at a time of great economic hardship. We can pontificate about the attractiveness of the “Carolina Way” or our first rate research facilities, which are both great, but if we are being honest, in an economy like ours, the primary attraction to this school for many prospective freshmen is its great value. If we were to adopt this tuition increase, we would necessarily reduce our competitive edge. Also, to those who argue that the cuts to higher education funding by the State House have inflicted an undue burden on Carolina academics and that this burden must be compensated for through other forms of income, I would point out that even if classroom funding were increased because of higher tuition, the educational experience of every student would be negatively impacted by the absence of intelligent students who could no longer enroll here because of the increased financial burden. Finally, with regard to tuition, I am not saying that there should be no tuition increase whatsoever. I am merely pointing out that a 40% increase (or 25% or 15% or 10% increases for that matter) is an extraordinary burden to expect a student population to bear, especially when our great value is what is attracting more students to us in the first place. There is usually a cap of a 6.5% increase in tuition each year, and any increase above that (which is about $455.52 this year) is too much.
Next, the sales tax would suck a projected $2.5 million out of the pockets of Orange County residents, and, even worse, it has already been defeated once before. In fact, the voters in Orange County have rejected multiple attempts to raise their taxes, but these have always been voted on in “big” election years, like 2008 or 2010, when voter turnout was expected to be high. Now, because the tax was mainly defeated by rural opposition in 2010, it has been re-proposed at a time when more conservative rural communities would not otherwise be voting while more liberal municipal communities would be going to vote for representatives for town governments. Even if you think that the county government should be increasing taxes on demand, (which doesn’t even make sense with Keynesian logic by the way) this tax needs to be defeated to send the message that Orange County residents do not appreciate being manipulated by their government. Finally, this tax would increase the financial burden on University students, albeit not as much as the tuition hikes would, and in a state that has been worse off than most during this recession, we should not allow for any government to make Chapel Hill a more difficult place to live for students who do not receive financial aid, parental, scholastic, or otherwise.
I’m not going to lie. Many Democrats have never found a government revenue source that they did not love; I have never found one that I did not loath. That said, the sales tax increase combined with the tuition increase will objectively increase the cost of being a Chapel Hill Student considerably. I don’t think anyone would argue that the net savings of $10.41 from student fees would make up for that massive increase, though the DTH might imply it.

 

Update:

The DTH had an article today (Friday, Nov. 4) about Student Body President Mary Cooper wanting to hear student input. I would urge anyone concerned about the tuition hikes to email her at macooper@live.unc.edu

 

Update #2:

I went to one of the tuition forums today and learned that the 40% figure reported by the DTH is unrealistic, and the impression that somehow tuition would rise that much in a year or two (which many people I have talked to got after their first time reading the article) does not seem to be on the table. You can text any questions you may have to 919-299-0195 and someone involved with giving the student perspective to the Board of Trustees will get back to you with an answer. Also, anyone interested, and in my opinion everyone should be, should attend a tuition forum. You can find all the times and locations here