Tuition Spikes While Financial Aid Falters
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
The state budget squeeze is putting many students in a double-vise: their tuition is climbing while financial aid is shrinking.
At least 25 states cut higher education funding for the 2003-2004 school year, said David L. Wright, a senior research analyst for the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), a Denver-based nonprofit group representing top state higher education officials.
Education experts worry that state budget cuts may ultimately price some students out of a higher education, not just at public universities, but also community colleges, which in many places also are registering double-digit spikes in tuition for 2003-2004.
Look for "many more" states to hike tuition in the 25-30 percent range, compared to last year in which only Massachusetts and South Carolina held that distinction, said Will Doyle, senior policy analyst of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonprofit in San Jose, Calif., that researches higher education public policies.
It's still too early to tell just how high tuition at public universities jumped this year in each state. A handful of states, including California, still have not yet completed their budgets for the fiscal year that began July 1 and a few went down to the wire. That means that some public universities are still trying to figure out how much the state will give them and what to charge for tuition.
Illinois may be the lone exception. Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich (D) signed into law July 22 a measure that locks in tuition costs, beginning in the 2004-2005 school year, for first-year Illinois students at the states' nine public universities for four years.
Last year 16 states increased tuition and fees by more than 10 percent, including Iowa, Missouri and Texas, which increased tuition and fees by 20 percent, according to the Center. Tuition at community colleges last year rose in all but two states (California and Maine) with 10 states registering increases of more than 10 percent, the center said. The center is funded, in part, by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the same organization that funds Stateline.org.
Some universities jacked up prices considerably more. The University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, for example, both increased tuition 39 percent for the 2003-2004 school year (see side bar for a sampling of the tuition hikes for this academic year).
There's also sticker shock at community colleges, which get about 40 percent of their funds from states. Tuition increases at community colleges in Connecticut, for example, averaged 11.6 percent and 7.5 percent in Florida, said Norma G. Kent, spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges, a trade group that represents 1,100 community colleges.
In letters to all the governors imploring them to avoid cuts, AACC wrote that community colleges have been forced to terminate programs and lay off staff.
Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina was able to stave off eliminating programs all together only after the president of the college persuaded local businesses to underwrite the programs, Kent said.
"That's an indicator of how serious this [budget situation] is when community colleges are having to really scale back or tighten things up," said Travis Reindl, assistant to the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, a trade group that represents some 430 public colleges and universities.
Overall, the amount of money that states dole out to higher education is expected to drop 6 percent in 2003-2004, a stark departure from the mid 1990s when states generally were boosting higher education appropriations by 6 percent, Reindl told Stateline.org.
"I'm concerned because the increases in tuition are not being, in many cases, accompanied by increases in grant aid," said Sandy Baum, a consultant to the College Board, a New York City-based nonprofit that in October will publish its annual reports on tuition increases and trends in student aid.
Last year, 17 states spent less on financial aid than they had the previous year, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and many experts expect that trend to continue. Oregon, for example, this year sliced $5 million from its need-based scholarship program while Iowa cut nearly $3 million from the state work-study program in 2002 and hasn't been able to restore the funds, according to officials in both states.
Lawmakers in Colorado sliced higher education 23 percent since 2002, including a $15 million cut in financial aid this year. The "highest priority" for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education is to restore financial aid, commission spokeswoman Joan Ringel told Stateline.org.
"Any time that funding doesn't keep pace with the increases of the cost of education, that simply means more loans, lower access, less aspiration," said John Klacik, president of the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Program, an organization that analyzes state financial aid.
Many but not all states are slashing both funds to colleges and financial aid. "It's not a consistent pattern from state to state," said Klacik.
Some states are juggling their scarce dollars to fund popular scholarship programs. For example:
- Oklahoma cut its higher education budget by 10 percent, but was able to increase by $6.3 million its popular Oklahoma Higher Learning Access scholarship program by suspending or taking funds from a dozen other programs.
- In New York, Trustees of the State University of New York approved a 28 percent tuition hike, but lawmakers funded the state's Tuition Assistance Program to ensure students from families of incomes up to $49,500 would get grants covering the tuition increase.
- Washington lawmakers authorized public colleges to increase tuition by 7 percent, but then added $8.5 million in grants to low-income students.
Baum, the consultant with the College Board, cautioned against making sweeping conclusions from the various headlines that scream "astronomical" tuition increases. In New York, for example, the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY) systems jacked tuition 25 percent and 28 percent, respectively. These are big hikes, but they are the first increases since 1995. "Now it's catch-up time," she said.