Tuition hikes continue at universities across the country

In what one student association leader calls a "shameful tactic," university systems across the nation have announced significant tuition increases in recent months. Students in California, Arizona and Nevada are just some of those who can expect to see double digit increases in their tuition bill come fall.

Tuition hikes seen nationwide

At the University of California, the Board of Regents recently passed a 9.6 percent tuition increase for the fall semester. When combined with a previously approved 8 percent increase, students enrolled at UC campuses will see their tuition bills jump nearly 18 percent for the upcoming semester. At the state's other major university system, California State University, tuition will climb 22 percent for the fall semester.

However, the issue of rising tuition rates is hardly a West Coast problem. Public universities across the nation have announced double digit increases this summer:

  • Florida: Under state law, tuition increases at Florida public universities are capped at 15 percent annually. That is likely of little comfort to students enrolled in state institutions where tuition increases are hitting the 15 percent mark for the third straight year. In addition, all public universities, except the University of North Florida, project 15 percent increases for the next four years.
  • Nevada: The Nevada Board of Regents approved a 13 percent increase in tuition at public colleges. Not only will students see their tuition bill increase, but their academic options may decrease. At the University of Las Vegas, nine academic departments and 18 degree programs were eliminated as part of the budgeting process.
  • Arizona: Since 2008, Arizona public universities have seen their state funding cut 50 percent. To compensate, double digit increases will be standard at many public institutions and top out at 22 percent for University of Arizona students. According to a CNN analysis, seniors at that school will be paying double the amount of tuition and fees when they graduate compared to their freshman year.

"Underlying crisis of today"

While university leaders point to state budget cuts as the reason for tuition hikes, Victor Sanchez, Vice President of the United States Student Association (USSA), says schools should be ashamed of passing significant rate hikes in the summer when most students are away from campus. "It's a shameful tactic on behalf of institutions to do this in a back-door way," Sanchez said. "These increases shouldn't be done during the summer."

Sanchez calls tuition increases "the underlying crisis of today" and believes students won't stand for much more. "With the majority of operating costs coming from students, they are going to demand more say in the decision-making process," he said. That is one reason the USSA leader says it is disingenuous for universities to make tuition decisions in the summer. With most students off campus, those most affected by tuition hikes are effectively cut out of the conversation.

Trends in private colleges

With the spotlight currently focused on public universities, private universities are quick to point out they have been able to limit tuition increases as well as expand student aid. "On average, tuition and fees at private colleges is increasing by 4.6 percent, while institutionally provided student aid is growing by 7 percent, for the 2011-12 academic year," said Tony Pals, Director of Communications for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

Still, the published tuition rates at private institutions can be significantly higher than those at public universities. The College Board reports that public, four-year institutions charge an average of $7,605 in tuition and fees each year for in-state students. Meanwhile, the average cost at private, four-year institutions is $27,293. At this time, data is not collected separately for online degree programs.

Despite the difference in prices, Pals points out student aid can significantly bring down out-of-pocket costs for those attending a private college or university. "Often, students are surprised by how much student aid is available at private colleges," he said. The NAICU states the average cost of tuition and fees at a private, four-year institution drops to $11,320 once grants and tax benefits are calculated.

Student response to tuition hikes

When asked who is ultimately responsible for tuition hikes, Sanchez didn't mince words. "There is mismanagement of funds by colleges and universities," he said. "And there are misplaced priorities by legislatures." In his view, the first step toward reducing future tuition hikes is awareness. Students need to know what is going on at their institution and become involved.

For those selecting a college, Pals stresses the importance of an institution's quality when it comes to containing costs. "An important step to keeping student debt manageable is to graduate on time," he said. "Students should look for institutions that are successful in retaining students and getting them through on schedule."

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