Kellie Rowe, USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent and Dr. Stephen Barnhart of the AAHEA
Tuition increases lower than usual at U.S. universities
Many universities across the U.S. are putting the smallest tuition increases in years in place this summer. One reason could be increases in state funding to schools.
The time of year has arrived for higher education administrators to buckle down to determine tuition costs before the fall, and many universities are giving students' pocketbooks a bit of a break.
Despite years of consistent raises, some universities are experiencing lower tuition increases than years past.
Ball State University administrators approved its lowest tuition increase in 37 years at about 2%, a 2.9% increase marked the University of Vermont's lowest increase in 36 years and Indiana University increased tuition by about 1.75% -- the lowest in 35 years.
The University of Michigan's 1.1% increase is its lowest in 29 years and the University of South Carolina's 3.5% increase is its lowest in 14 years.
Tuition costs are often a result of how much funding a university receives from the state -- the less money in state support, the higher the tuition increase, said Paul Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
Tuition trends are hard to map out because of the increasing number of universities sprouting up throughout the country, but the unusually low increases in tuition costs could be a result of more state funding in certain states, he said.
"There's a very strong pattern in the history of higher education that when there is a recession, there's pressure on state funding, and it usually can't grow to keep up with inflation and enrollment increases, and tuition tends to increase," he said. "When the economy recovers, states and institutions typically tend to try and hold tuition increases (down)."
However, data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) show the states might not be bouncing back as well as recent tuition increase trends suggest.
States across the nation are spending $2,353 less per student on higher education now than in 2008, according to a 2013 CBPP report. The cuts have caused four-year public universities to increase tuition by 27% on average within the past five years. For California and Arizona students, tuition has increased the most -- about 70%.
Nick Johnson, vice president of state fiscal policy at the CBPP, said although tuition increases are lower this year, it's unlikely universities will actually reduce tuition costs.
"I don't know whether it's ever happened," he said. "The long-term trend is toward higher tuition partly because in any given year, any additional funds that a university might have available would most likely go to cover rising costs, to expand enrollment, increase financial aid or increase course offerings."
Stephen Barnhart, chief adviser of the American Association for Higher Education and Accreditation, said even when states do increase higher education funding, he's often noticed schools continue to raise tuition.
"Schools historically will shamelessly attempt to take advantage of the anticipated windfalls whether they need the money or not just so they do not lose any the following year," Barnhart said. "Schools will not shrink their budgets nor shrink their desire for more unless the legislature pounces on them."
Some state legislatures implement tuition increase caps or tuition freezes as a condition for universities to receive government funding. When lawmakers don't require these restrictions, this can be an issue for economically troubled states, such as Michigan or California, Barnhart said.
Barnhart said one way universities might consider lowering tuition costs is through the creation of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are free to anyone with an Internet connection.
He said if more major universities offer these courses, smaller schools might begin offering them as well to attract students to their schools.
Barnhart said if more schools offer MOOC classes, businesses are
likely to find ways to turn those courses into free degrees, one way or another.
"It will change the face of higher education as we know it today," he said.
Kellie Rowe is a summer 2013 Collegiate Correspondent.