Two weeks ago, the Board of Regents upheld a yearly ritual and raised the cost of tuition. But this year’s 5.6-percent hike was accompanied by a surprising break with tradition — for the first time in three years, the vote wasn’t unanimous. While it appears that at least some of the regents are beginning to understand that escalating tuition rates are unacceptable, students will still have to contend with another significant hike. By raising tuition yet again, the University is failing to provide accessible higher education to everyone — a failure that can only be remedied by doing whatever it takes to make the cost of a college education affordable again.
At their June 18 meeting, the Board of Regents voted 6-2 to approve another 5.6-percent increase in tuition for most students for the 2009-2010 academic year. This means that in-state tuition for students in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts is now $11,660 a year — 20 percent higher than it was three years ago. Regents Julia Darlow (D-Ann Arbor) and Denise Ilitch (D-Bingham Farms) voted against the increase, the first such votes in three years.
Darlow and Ilitch’s votes represent a positive change, but the voting procedures of the Board of Regents are still a problem. The serious debate over the budget occurred out of public view, as it does every year. This is a flawed way of making University decisions, and it casts the tuition hike in an even darker light.
But it’s still the hike itself that merits the most criticism. In this slumping economy, most families are experiencing increased financial burdens, which means fewer dollars to put toward their kids’ college education. Though the approved budget includes a commendable increase of 11.7 percent in financial aid funded by private donors, high tuition costs are still a problem for middle class students who don’t necessarily qualify for financial aid.
It’s impossible not to balk at the regents’ budget, especially when it includes expenditures like the continued hiring of 100 faculty members. Maintaining an excellent faculty is certainly important, but the need for such increases seems doubtful when the consequence is an unaffordable situation for students.
The University administration cites dwindling financial support from the state as a reason for the increase. It’s true that the state government has a responsibility to fund its institutions of higher education, and that maintaining academic excellence is a key to remedying the state’s financial plight. But the University’s projection of a $10.4 million funding cut is simply that — a projection.
Two years ago, when the University raised tuition on the pretext of a projected funding loss, the projection turned out to be lower than the amount that the state eventually provided. Students were never refunded for this mistake. So while the state should make an effort to provide adequate funding for higher education, the final responsibility ultimately rests with the University.
The University has failed this responsibility. With every increase, a college education becomes a less realistic option for countless students. While the country is in financial turmoil, affordable education is more necessary than ever.