- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Parents and students are bracing for a new round of sticker shock this fall as public colleges and universities are hiking prices again, this time to make up for massive cuts in state budgets.

Half of all states cut higher-education funding in their fiscal year 2012 spending plans, some by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The University System of Wisconsin, for example, lost $125 million in state funding. It responded by raising tuition 5.5 percent, which is expected to generate $37.5 million in additional revenue to help plug the gap.

UW System President Kevin P. Reilly called the cut and subsequent tuition hike “a tough pill to swallow,” and UW may also increase class sizes, cut back on research, shrink study-abroad programs and take other cost-cutting steps.

The story is the same at public systems in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Washington, Florida, Oregon, Texas, Georgia and elsewhere.

The University of Virginia is raising tuition 8.9 percent, Virginia Tech by 9.2 percent. On the other side of the Potomac, the University System of Maryland will raise tuition 3 percent at 11 of its 12 campuses. The exception is Salisbury University, where rates are going up by 6 percent.

An informal sampling by The Washington Times of 17 public institutions in 14 states - both individual campuses and entire systems - found an average increase of 9.8 percent, compared with fall 2010, with increases of about 20 percent at some.

With general inflation at just 3.6 percent over the past 12 months, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, tight state budgets are the real culprits.

The University of Michigan lost $47.5 million this fiscal year, prompting a tuition increase of 6.7 percent.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire chopped funding for the state’s university system by $48.4 million, and school officials responded by raising tuition at each of its five campuses. Penn State University saw a $68 million cut, quickly followed by a 3.8 percent tuition increase.

But they pale in comparison with the University of California, which lost a whopping $650 million and will raise fall tuition rates by 18 percent.

California State University, the state’s other public system and the nation’s largest with more than 400,000 students on 23 campuses, plans to increase prices by 22 percent, the Associated Press reported.

For state legislatures, the choice isn’t easy, but lawmakers need to balance the books somehow. Forty-nine states are constitutionally required to stay in the black each year, and higher education is often a more appealing target than reducing funding for corrections or services for the elderly and disabled.

“Legislatures are starting to rethink higher ed,” said Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. “If they have a choice between funding for the elderly or subsidizing the upper-middle-class kid to go to college … subsidizing the middle-class kid to go to college is a lower priority.”

While many states are also cutting K-12 education, Mr. Vedder argued that carries much more political risk. School districts often respond to funding cuts by raising taxes, while colleges and university systems respond by raising tuition. Tax increases, even at the local level, get elected officials in trouble. Tuition increases at colleges usually don’t.

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