Thursday, December 11, 2008

Today's Quick Fix: Controlling Tuition

December 11, 2008, 7:30, 8:15 a.m.

A Quick Fix for Education's
Rising Student Tuition -- And Accelerating Student Debt

Yesterday this blog offered "Three Quick Fixes," December 10, 2008, for the public policy challenges involving gay marriage, foreclosures, and the declining newspaper industry.

Today's entry solves the problem of rising college tuition and graduates' debt burdens -- in response to the 4.2% tuition increase just voted by the Iowa Board of Regents.

Yesterday's Des Moines Register forcefully put the case for holding the line on tuition increases. Editorial, "Regents: Vote no on tuition hike," Des Moines Register, December 10, 2008. But after their 90 minute discussion later that day the editorial had failed to persuade more than two members of the Board (Regents Gartner and Harkin) and tuition was ordered increased 4.2% by a vote of 6 to 2. Erin Jordan, "Regents OK 4.2% increase in tuition," Des Moines Register, December 11, 2008.

Extensive excerpts from both the editorial and today's story by Erin Jordan are at the end of this blog entry.

Clearly, everyone involved recognizes the dilemma.

Nationally, college budgets -- expenses supported by legislative appropriations, research grants, endowment income, students' tuition and fees -- have been increasing at rates well beyond general inflation. (Why that is so is beyond the scope of this blog entry.) Now that our economy is slipping on the ice at ever increasing speed toward the glacial crevice that is total global economic collapse, colleges are not immune from the squeeze all institutions are feeling and to which they are responding. Iowa's three Regents' institutions have been asked by the Governor to make $7 million worth of cuts between now and June 30.

At the same time, our nation's long term economic recovery and global competitiveness is dependent, as much as anything, on the quality of all our educational institutions -- and the quantity of our people who have successfully attended them. But students are already graduating with debt loads that would be problematical in the best of times, and these aren't the best of times. Families that can barely, if at all, pay for their children's education now aren't going to find it any easier once parents are laid off and the tuition costs are even higher.

So here's this morning's "quick fix" -- though admittedly one that requires the participation of many more folks than can be found in Iowa:

The Fix:

o Modify the high school senior year.

o Require two years of service from every high school graduate.

o Extend public education from K-12 to K-14, utilizing community colleges.

o Recognize the public and private benefit of college by splitting the cost.


o High school senior year. The National Commission on the High School Senior Year, among a great many other individuals and task forces, has observed that high school seniors are not getting all the benefit they might from their last year. Those qualifying for advanced placement ("AP") classes might better be taking equivalent courses in a community college or university. Those headed for the trades might better be spending some time job shadowing. Not only would this kind of innovation improve the lives of students, it's an example of increasing benefits to students while reducing costs (fewer teachers and buildings) and the school populations to more manageable size (many experts recommend 600 as the optimum high school enrollment).

o Post-high school service. Whether we should reinstate the military draft is beyond the scope of this blog entry. But the idea of some kind of two-year service has been around for some time, and is the practice in many countries. In addition to the military it could include the Peace Corps, VISTA, and numerous other opportunities for service. The benefits, in addition to the contributions made by the young people involved, would be the "real world" work experience they would gain, the added maturity from being two years older, the sense of having both "given back" and having now earned their addition education.

o K-14. It has been well over a half-century since the minimum amount of public education thought necessary for every citizen went from sixth or eighth grade to K-12. Many today believe a four-year college education should be considered the minimum. Isn't it time we expand public education to at least K-14 -- that is, two years beyond today's high school? It's called "public" not only because it is available to all at public expense but because the entire public benefits from having everyone educated to at least that level. Those two years, the equivalent of the freshman and sophomore years of college, can be much more efficiently provided by our community college system -- cheaper for the students, their parents, and the taxpayers. Given the number and accessibility of community colleges students can save on expenses, possibly by continuing to live at home, cheaper rent if they move, and less travel expenses if they commute. The two years could be provided free of tuition -- in repayment, in part, for the two years of service. And the community colleges are already set up to provide a dual track education: two years of college prep courses for those going on, and the range of two-year associate degrees for those who will be going directly into the trades or service sectors of the economy (along with some additional basic education and skills).

o Splitting college costs. By reducing the basic college education to two years (equivalent to today's junior and senior years) from the current four it would already cut students' tuition, and resulting debt load in half. (The economics of graduate and professional degrees, and universities' major research projects, are beyond the scope of this blog entry.) The possible political reluctance to "free college education" (either the current four-year programs, or the proposed junior and senior year program) is that much of the benefit of a given individual's education goes to that individual in the form of the additional lifetime income they earn. This proposal is that half of the cost of those two years would be paid by federal taxpayers (thus reducing the fraud and administrative hassle surrounding "in-state" and "out-of-state" designations). The other half would be paid out of a revolving fund created by all graduates. It would be created by their paying a small percentage of their adjusted gross income, collected as a part of the income tax process, into the revolving fund. Thus, those who benefited the most economically over the course of their lifetimes would pay the most; those who chose public service careers that paid them less would pay less into the revolving fund.

OK. That's the quick fix for today.

Now here are excerpts from the Register's editorial and Erin Jordan's story:

Editorial, "Regents: Vote No On Tuition Hike," Des Moines Register, December 10, 2008:

A growing number of layoffs and families losing their homes through foreclosure fill the news in Iowa, like the rest of the country. Add to that high student debt loads. And the expectation that the global economic crisis will only worsen in 2009, before it improves.

Yet the Iowa Board of Regents today is scheduled to vote when it meets in Cedar Falls on a proposed 4.2 percent tuition hike . . ..

The regents should vote no. . . .

What will families face if the regents vote yes?

Increases in room, board and other expenses, such as books, are only estimated at this point, but with the proposed tuition hike plus mandatory fees, the overall bill for in-state undergraduates at the U of I would jump 5.4 percent ($963) to $18,902 . . .

This editorial page has championed investing in these three jewels, which provide a good education for Iowa's young people at a relative bargain price, and economic development for the state. . . .

The country faces the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression. That justifies forgoing a tuition increase so students are not shut out of the universities just as they, the state and the nation need to prepare for the economic recovery that eventually lies ahead. . . .

[T]he governor and 2009 Legislature should look at how they can safeguard state appropriations for these great assets.

Erin Jordan, "Regents OK 4.2% increase in tuition," Des Moines Register, December 11, 2008:

The Iowa Board of Regents on Wednesday opted for a 4.2 percent increase that supports program needs at the state's public universities after considering freezing tuition levels . . ..

The board voted 6-2 in favor of the increase . . . after a 90-minute discussion . . ..

"Given the value we provide and the transformational opportunity that education affords, this is a reasonable increase in this economic environment," Regents President David Miles said. Other states are raising tuition at rates ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent, according to the board's executive director.

Regents Michael Gartner and Ruth Harkin, who voted against the increase, wanted to freeze tuition at this year's rates because of the poor economy. . . .

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has asked the regents to trim $7 million from university budgets for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. . . .

Under 2009-10 tuition plans approved Wednesday:

- The University of Iowa would charge resident undergraduates $5,782. Nonresident undergraduates would pay $21,156, a 7.6 percent increase from this year. . . .

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You make some good points. It should be noted that some students and parents are already doing this. In fact more than ever before. Kirkwood's expansion in Iowa City and the fact that the UI accepts so many transfer credits from the JUCOs has created a large number of students who get at least a portion of their first two years of college from the JUCO. There is a criticism that I believe has some validity that says that although you get the same credits for say a rhetoric course from Kirkwood or the UI, the UI course is a better product because it has better students and is more challenging.

My children are still below this age, but I certainly expect the JUCOs to play a role in their post High School eduction.