AASCU: Universities Wrongly Blamed for Large Tuition Hikes
September 5, 2003 --
The House Education Committee leadership has issued a paper, "The College
Cost Crisis: A Congressional Analysis of College Costs." The American
Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) normally does not
respond to partisan expressions which are part of the legislative process,
but in this instance wishes to correct and clarify.
The underlying theme of the congressional paper is that colleges and universities are responsible for unjustified increases in tuition and fees and need to be held accountable for increases exceeding inflationary limits.
Tuition increases in recent years have been larger than the higher education community wished or desired. On campus after campus, major program reductions and hundreds of lay-offs have occurred as public higher education has sought to educate growing student populations with flat or declining revenues. There is a direct and inverse relationship between the level of state appropriations and the level of tuition increases. The large increases of this past year -- increases which in the main were unavoidable -- are the direct result of the revenue crises which have hit 47 of our 50 states.
Irrespective of whether tuition is increased by a campus governance board, a statewide commission, or a legislature, these increases are part of building a budget. All public universities, all state governments must balance their books. They do not have the option of deficit budgets.
The assertion in "The College Cost Crisis" that "It's not just the economy, Stupid," is wrong. It is the economy. A few examples illustrate this point. In California, eight years of economic growth resulted in unchanged student fees, except for one year when fees were rolled back 10%. The state's current fiscal crisis led to $500 million reduction in appropriations, and a corollary 30% tuition increase. In Iowa, three consecutive years of funding cuts for higher education totaled $100 million and produced cumulative tuition increases of approximately 40%, which only partially covered lost funding from the state.
In Virginia, improved state funding in the late 90's resulted in a 25% tuition rollback. In the last two fiscal years, state funding declined more than 20%, forcing tuition increases averaging 15% this year. While in recent years universities have faced mounting costs, especially for additional classes for growing enrollments, expensive computing and scientific equipment, and the expansion of medical and engineering research, the primary factor determining tuition charges has been and remains the level of state appropriations.
Congress's own "Congressionally Mandated Studies of College Costs and Prices" said it clearly: " . . . declining state appropriations is the single most important factor associated with tuition increases."
Public universities are accountable to the public. If there is a need for greater accountability, state colleges anduniversities will respond. But we should keep in mind that these universities have their finances publicly reported and audited; their work is periodically and publicly reviewed by governing and coordinating boards, and by legislative committees.
Furthermore, they are subject to public record and public meeting legislation, and the media have unfettered access to the campus community.
Among public entities, state colleges and universities rank among the most accountable.
With these clarifications, AASCU acknowledges the genuine interest of the Congress in ensuring access and affordability. AASCU is deeply committed to these goals, as well, and pledges to work with the Congress better to achieve their realization.
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