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NASULGC Paper Invites Discussion

December 4, 2008

The cost of providing education at public universities has barely increased over the last decade. From 1996-2006, public higher education revenues per student only increased $203--from $10,091 to $10,294. Independent universities, on the other hand, have seen considerable increases over the last decade due to growing per-student budgets. These findings are discussed in an analytical paper released by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), intended to stimulate discussion about tuition, university funding, and the control of both tuition increases and program quality in the future.

The report, University Tuition, Consumer Choice and College Affordability, notes that tuition at public and independent universities is rapidly increasing. Tuition at public research universities rose at a 6.61percent compounded annual rate during the last ten years. While tuition and fees at independent universities had a slower rate increase over the ten-year period, the absolute dollar increase was much greater due to the high base at which tuition started. On average, between 1996 and 2006, tuition and fees at public research universities rose by $3,063 and by $13,259 at independent universities. Not all sectors of higher education saw staggering increases; community college prices increased by an annual rate of 3.83 percent--only 1.6 times the rate of consumer prices.

Efforts to manage tuition increases in public higher education are often misdirected due to the focus on cost. The rise in tuition has been sufficient to make up for reduced state funding, but not to increase public university budgets.

NASULGC, soon to change its name to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), has identified courses of action that will help resolve the growing trend of unaffordable higher education expense. A sampling of these strategies follows:

  • Develop managerial and technological methods to reduce education and support costs.
    • Reduce costs without reducing academic quality by understanding both costs and program quality.
  • Develop innovative and less expensive ways to deliver education.
    • Improve the effectiveness of course delivery.
      • Course redesign allows faculty members and departments to restructure traditional teaching methods.
      • Online instruction is a alternate delivery mode for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
      • E-games, though still new, uses game playing as an effective learning tool.
    • Implement programs that prove effective.
  • Add to endowments that target financial aid to those who need it most.
    • Use endowments to offset costs not covered by public and private sources so low-income students will not accumulate a substantial amount of debt.
  • Deregulation for public universities
    • Reduce the number of state and federal regulations, thus allowing schools to make more efficient decisions.
  • Other options to consider are as follows:
    • Reduce the average time spent obtaining a degree by offering well-organized advising and financial options allowing students to graduate in four years.
    • Restructure the undergraduate degree so it would take three years to obtain instead of four.
    • Rethink and redesign federal financial aid to make it easier for students and parents to understand while lowering student costs

Many public higher education universities have started the process of trying to reduce costs; NASULGC would like to continue the process by calling for a serious dialogue between and within universities about tuition levels and methods for controlling them in the future.