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Hate high tuition? Blame the Alabama State Legislature

10/17/2013

Alabama is often noted for being low on national rankings in education. This time, we ranked fourth! The nature of our ranking, though, is not so ‘good.’

A five-year study released in January ranked Alabama fourth in the nation in cuts to higher education funding. In the past 5 years, Alabama lawmakers have cut funding to public universities by a whopping 28 percent.

In fact, Jacksonville State’s funding has been cut by 34.4 percent since 2008; slightly more than the state average.

What does this mean to you? It means that in order to make up the differences, colleges and universities across the state have been forced to hike up tuition.

Recently, the JSU Board of Trustees made the difficult decision of raising tuition again to meet the needs of the university. Due to the lack of adequate state funding, the Board approved a 6.79 percent increase in tuition as well as the University’s first ever general fee.

Our own Board of Trustees chairman described the economic concern here best when he said that if the trend continues, only the wealthy will be able to afford to attend college. Not only do I agree, but I recognize that it is a matter of economics.

The state of Alabama needs to realize that the fact that universities “can charge tuition” isn’t really a solid justification for blindly cutting state funding. Forcing universities to raise tuition only puts a burden on our state economy as a whole.

When tuition rates are higher, less can afford college. When less people can afford college they have one of two options: take out more loans or forego a higher education. Neither of these options have a positive outcome for the state.

It is common knowledge that when a business is deciding where to locate it looks for a well-educated local work force. If Alabama continues on the road it has been on for the past 5 years, we will never be able to recruit quality jobs to the State of Alabama and our best educated citizenry will be in financial ruin due to outrageous student loan debt.

A lot of people contend that the debate over education funding pits K-12, which relies solely on state funding, against Higher Ed which “can charge tuition.” However, the debate is much more than that.

Senator Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), who serves as a JSU Trustee, addressed what I agree is the core issue concerning Higher Education Funding: how education is funded. Currently, education is funded largely on volatile and unpredictable state sales and income tax revenue.

In 2003, Alabamians overwhelmingly defeated a proposal for the state to restructure its tax system. Part of that plan was to restructure the way education was funded to make the budgeting process more sustainable.

One thing is for sure: we cannot continue on the path that we are on now. It is going to take students, faculty, and general citizens coming together to find a way to better serve our public universities.

In the words of Senator Figures: “We need a change. We are all going to have to come together as one.”

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