After President Obama recently announced his plan to require that colleges and universities contain their tuition costs or face losing federal money, those heads of bastions of higher learning are all in a tizzy, citing over-involvement from the government. But are their fears warranted? After all, they have already been subject to severe state budget cuts in recent years.
And change isn’t that simple, according to Al Bowman of Illinois State, who feels that the deficit faced by most public schools cannot be so easily overcome. He cited “fuzzy math” as part of Obama’s rationale for the plan, as decreases in state aid have made it a leap to tie federal support to tuition prices. Illinois State, which has over twenty thousand students, has been forced to raise their tuition over forty five percent since 2007, from roughly $6,000 for an instate undergraduate to nearly $10,000.
Bowman’s response to Obama’s plan included his belief that the President assumes that universities should be more efficient, thereby operating with tinier state subsidies, and while more efficient states could be realized, those standards will be impossible to meet because of the loss of state financial support.
His suggestions include hiring more part-time or adjunct faculty and increasing class sizes, but that those efficient tactics would dilute the quality of education, which no one wants, especially as the U.S. has been roundly criticized as of late for lagging behind the rest of the global community, especially in the areas of math and science.
Mike Young, the president of the University of Washington, spoke out about Obama’s obvious lack of background knowledge or understanding of how the budgets at public universities function. Universities are forced to tighten their belts, while the state is cutting subsidies and hiking up the cost of tuition to try to make up for extra efficiencies.
Obama’s plan, however, needs to be approved by Congress, which will be difficult to attain as partisan gridlock takes its toll.
During his State of the Union address, the President spoke about his many talks with university presidents who attempted to explain how technology has been helping to cut costs and spending, as well as course redesigns that are trying to get students out the door more quickly. Obama spoke about his belief that, if more universities took these approaches, the end result would be more efficient and less expensive for everyone.
This announcement has been popular with students, however, who have complained about tuition hikes and the price of their loans for years. Attending college has become so cost prohibitive that many Americans are questioning the value of higher education. Of course, they may also turn to options such as applying for navy scholarships or undertaking a military education to help pay for school. But for many, the army simply isn’t an option.
The bottom line for colleges and schools, according to President Obama, is that tuition hikes must stop, that they can’t assume that they’ll be able to make big increases every year. Tuition prices must go down, the President said, or state funding will.
Evan Fischer is a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.