Saturday, July 28, 2007

Public Colleges Raise Their Price on Some Degrees

From the New York Times:

Should an undergraduate studying business pay more than one studying psychology? Should a journalism degree cost more than one in literature? More and more public universities, confronting rising costs and lagging state support, have decided that the answers may be yes and yes.

Starting this fall, juniors and seniors pursuing an undergraduate major in the business school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will pay $500 more each semester than classmates. The University of Nebraska last year began charging engineering students a $40 premium for each hour of class credit.

And Arizona State University this fall will phase in for upperclassmen in the journalism school a $250 per semester charge above the basic $2,411 tuition for in-state students.

Such moves are being driven by the high salaries commanded by professors in certain fields, the expense of specialized equipment and the difficulties of getting state legislatures to approve general tuition increases, universityofficials say.

“It is something of a trend,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Even as they embrace such pricing, many officials acknowledge they are queasy about a practice that appears to value one discipline over another or that could result in lower-income students clustering in less expensive fields.

“This is not the preferred way to do this,” said Patrick V. Farrell, provost at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “If we were able to raise resources uniformly across the campus, that would be a preferred move. But with our current situation, it doesn’t seem to us that that’s possible.”

At the University of Kansas, which started charging different prices in the early 1990s, there are signs that the higher cost of majoring in certain subjects is affecting the choices of poorer students.

“We are seeing at this point purely anecdotal evidence,” said Richard W. Lariviere, provost and executive vice chancellor at the university. “The price sensitivity of poor students is causing them to forgo majoring, for example, in business or engineering, and rather sticking with something like history.”

Private universities do not face the same tuition constraints and for the most part are avoiding the practice, educators say, holding to the traditional idea that college students should be encouraged to get a well-rounded education.

Richard Fass, vice president for planning at Pomona, a private liberal arts college in California, said educators there considered it fundamental for students to feel part of the larger college, not segmented by differential costs. “The entire curriculum is by design available to all students,” he said.

Some public university officials say they worry that students who are charged more for their major will stick to the courses in their field to feel that they are getting their money’s worth.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think that charging more for certain degrees is a disturbing idea. It threatens to divide academic disciplines into high and low status categories. For example, if engineers are charged more than physicists, that would seem to say that physics is lower status than engineering. And while I'm not trying to disparage engineering (my brother and father are engineers), I think that physics is just as important of a discipline as engineering.

    In my opinion, states just need to suck it up and provide more funding for state schools. One possible solution is to earmark tax increases so the revenue they generate can only be used for education. Personally, I think the vast majority of voters would gladly shell out a little more if they knew it would only be used to improve education.

  3. They are just acknowledging that some majors require more money, which is true. From one perspective, why should students in the math department (the second cheapest department on campus, hey all they need are pencils, paper and erasers) pay just as much as the most expensive departments. More resources are being used in the Engineering and business departments (why does the business department need money? they don't need that many resources), so why should a philosophy major (the cheapest department, they just need pencils and paper, no erasers) pay so an Engineer can have a computer.

    I think the answer lies in the second to the last paragraph where the comment is made that it is "fundamental for students to feel part of the larger college". You go to college for an education, what ever it may be, you should get a similar education even if it consists of different subjects. You don't pay to use a computer in the Engineering department, you pay to get an education.

    Those are my thoughts on the matter.

  4. Yes, I think dance majors should pay for my education!


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