Tuition based on major may become aspect of future

A Florida task force has proposed charging different tuition rates based on a student’s major, and The University of Alabama may be on the track to implementing such changes, as well.

Many schools in the U.S. have recently been subject to tuition increases. In July, The University of Alabama Board of Trustees approved a tuition increase to apply to all three campuses in the system. Stephen Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center at the University, said this is related to state budget cuts to higher education.

“The Delta Cost Project and other similar studies have consistently shown as state support has been cut, tuition has been increased. The tuition funds are supplanting state funding, and institutions are typically falling behind,” Katsinas said. “It’s not uncommon to find when states cut higher education budgets by three or four percent, that tuition is forced to increase by double that amount, seven or eight percent, because of the sheer amount of funds.”

The Florida Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform proposes a system of differentiated tuition cost based on major.

“There should be no resident student tuition increases applied in high-skill, high-wage, high-demand (market driven) bachelor degrees, as identified by the legislature,” the task force recommends in the current draft of the proposal.

In such a system, the state legislature would identify market demands for the state, and schools would choose programs related to those fields. As the proposal recommends, tuition for students in those programs would not go up, as an incentive to draw students to the programs, according to Dale Brill, chair of the task force.

“This should help the 12 schools that make up the State University System of Florida think more like a system and less like individual institutions,” Brill said. “Let’s take, for instance, a journalism degree. Why can’t three of the 12 schools in the system pursue fantastic programs in journalism, instead of all 12 having programs just to have them? By implementing this system, schools will be able to identify those programs that they want to pursue.”

However, Katsinas said this could affect an institution’s autonomy.

“It is one thing for the state to say what higher education investments they would like to make, it’s another thing for the state to push institutional use of internally reallocated funds, such as tuition paid by students and families,” Katsinas said. “If this proposal does that – and I’m not entirely sure it does or not – I don’t think that it will work well.”

However, Brill said the task force hopes to contribute to a discussion that will lead to the end of status quo thinking in higher education.

“We’re trying to introduce some semblance of a market dynamic information in an environment where there is none,” Brill said. “Most students couldn’t tell you what they pay in tuition. In economics, pricing is all we have to determine and work out supply and demand. So, when the consumer is completely separated from the cost of a product, then the cost rises.”

Once the proposal is completed, Brill said the task force will hand over their findings to Florida governor Rick Scott.

“We do nothing more than hand it to the governor, and he does what he sees fit,” Brill said. “These are nothing more than recommendations to inform the governor and the legislature for their consideration.”