With state support dwindling, no one expects college tuition to decrease any time soon. But the faculty and staff pay raises for 2010 make it seem that the University isn’t doing everything it could to keep college affordable. And though University employees are receiving smaller salary increases this year, students will continue to feel the strain on their already pinched pocketbooks. With tuition costs on the rise, the University should be loathe to increase costs that will be passed on to students. Officials at the University should continue to give increases back and the University should give fewer raises to lower the burden on students.

In late December, the University released a report that compared the salaries of its faculty and staff from this year to last. The report revealed that faculty and staff earned smaller pay increases this year. According to the report, several other highly-paid University employees, including 19 deans, chose not to receive merit-based salary increases. Among those declining salary increases was University President Mary Sue Coleman.

But even smaller raises are still more than the strapped-for-cash University should hand out while students continue to be encumbered with rising tuition. Students have been forced to accept massive tuition increases over the past few years — a 5.6 percent increase was announced in the summer of 2009 alone. Tuition increases, University officials often argue, are the result of decreasing state funding, and more cuts are expected for the next fiscal year.

But the way to compensate for less money from the state isn’t to increase students’ tuition. Students already struggle to pay the University’s exorbitant tuition — especially in light of the current economic climate. As a public institution of higher education, the University should be doing everything in its power to keep college affordable, and that means shaving costs wherever possible. Pay increases — even smaller increases than University employees usually receive — are difficult to accept as an appropriate use of the University’s funding.

University employees certainly contribute to the college’s success and should be acknowledged, but the primary purpose of higher education is to provide an education to the students. The University needs to ensure that its funds are being used primarily for what students need. And what students need in an economy that has state residents tightening their belts is affordable education.

Faculty members who decided to decline merit raises demonstrated an understanding that making education more affordable for students should be a priority. And Coleman’s decision to forego a pay increase this year — as well as in past years — is a positive show of leadership. But she must maintain the support by declining more of the University’s money, something she failed to do in 2008.

It is an unfortunate reality that college tuition has been increasing throughout the past several years. But for faculty members to be granted pay increases in correlation with tuition hikes is counter-intuitive. Instead of laying the financial load on students, the University should maintain its focus on students, and cut costs.

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