Last Thursday, students supporting the “Stop the Hike” initiative met with the Regents to plead their case. Their proposal is simple — stop increasing tuition. While the idea sounds appealing to undergraduate students, the proposal is as implausible as it is shortsighted. The University must adjust its tuition costs to grapple with the effects of inflation and decreasing state funding. But the Center for Education Policy within the Roosevelt Institution – a student-run think tank and public policy group on campus – proposes a one-year moratorium on tuition hikes. This would allow students, faculty, regents and experts to collaborate on the best way to deal with tuition in the long run.

There is no denying that a University of Michigan degree is becoming more and more expensive. Just last year, both in-state and out-of-state students saw a 7.4 percent increase in tuition costs. The increase is representative of a larger trend — tuition has increased 47 percent since 2002. But the overarching hike does not come without rationale. As state appropriations decline, the University has to use alternative methods of generating immediate capital. Consequently, student tuition has become the source of an increasingly large proportion of the University’s general fund, reaching a high of 62 percent in 2007.

While a pragmatic approach is necessary, the University and its budget committees must recognize that an indefinite tuition hike is absurd. By continuing to shift the burden onto students, the University will only delay actually dealing with the issues that make the hike necessary.

Instead, the University can better serve its students and its own long-term, self-sustaining goals simultaneously by instating a moratorium on tuition hikes for the 2009-2010 academic year. The University could use this fiscal year to reassess its economic policies in light of forthcoming developments such as stimulus package money, possible economic upturn and market development.

Kim Dancy, co-director of the Roosevelt Center for Education Policy, advocated for the moratorium in a policy brief presented to the regents during their Thursday meeting. In addition to arguing that ever-increasing tuition is not a responsible budget strategy, the proposal outlined the broader socioeconomic context of the issue and the burden it imposes on students and their families. In her brief, she argued, “With the highest unemployment rate in the nation for January (11.6 percent), it is clear that economic decline has hit hard, making the prospect of entering or continuing a degree program unattainable for many individuals.”

“Despite risks associated with such a policy,” she wrote, “it is in the best interests of the majority of University students to maintain a climate of academic distinction and diverse student population.”

The proposed one-year tuition increase moratorium presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between the administration and students. The University should reassess tuition increase as the answer to fulfilling budget benchmarks. Rather than spending the year with other budget officers developing a new plan that yet again asks the students to make up for that which the state can no longer provide, the budget officers and regents should spend the year with students, policy makers and state representatives to figure out long-term solutions to maintaining and improving access to higher education in Michigan.

It is the responsibility of the University as an institution to address this economic difficulty in new and innovative ways. And it is long past time to throw out the old, shortsighted tuition hike solution for the sake of long-term budget sustainability.

Nicole Premo is co-director for the Roosevelt Center for Education Policy.

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