In recent years, University students have had a roller coaster of a time with tuition. The problem with this roller coaster is that it always goes up and never comes down. In fact, the only variable is how fast the roller coaster is going to go up in a given academic year. As stressful as this is, the University is not the only institution with this problem. Other institutions, however, have tried to counter this dizzying effect in some very creative ways. University officials should take note of these strategies and try to implement them here.

Over the past few years, tuition has increased tremendously, with another 6.5 percent increase coming for the 2003-2004 calendar year. Last year’s increase of 7.9 percent put a tremendous burden on students and their families. With statistics like these, students and their parents are left to wonder if there is any way to curb these increases. Because of tuition increases each year, college has become an investment for which it is difficult for many families to be able to assess how to pay. This problem is one that the state of Illinois has recently attempted to address.

Under a bill that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) recently signed into law, the tuition rates for students will be consistent for four consecutive years – or five years for some specialized fields – upon matriculation at a particular institution. The overall goal is to give parents and students a way to budget their money with respect to academics. Knowing how much money will be necessary to spend on tuition each year can certainly have its benefits. Western Illinois University adopted this policy in 1999 and has had success in doing so. Following their lead, the whole state has moved to lock in tuition rates in this fashion.

This policy does have some fairly obvious downsides to it. One problem is related to the state budget. If there are drastic budget cuts at the state level for higher education, it may be impossible to keep tuition at a consistent level for four years. This is of particular importance for people in the state of Michigan, where the governor and state Legislature have had to undertake cuts in funding for higher education in order to avert budget shortfalls. If the state of Michigan were to adopt such a policy, it may have to be tempered. Still, it is important to note that Western Illinois University has had success with this policy and better planning on the part of the state and the University would make it feasible here as well.

The state should enact such a policy not only to help students and their families to be able to afford a college education, but also to encourage more students to go straight through four years of college instead of taking a year off for financial reasons. It will also enable students who never enroll in a four year institution because of the high cost more likely to attend such a school.

As a result of state budget cuts and federal aid reformulations, controlling tuition must be a priority for the state and its universities. Despite campaign pledges from political candidates, including those running for the University Board of Regents, officials have been unable to stabilize large tuition increases. A combination of prudent financial planning on the part of the University, including dampening splurges during good times and avoiding massive cutbacks during bad economic times, and a policy such as that signed into law in nearby Illinois, would go a long way toward helping Michigan’s students.

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