Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Governors O'Malley of Maryland, Gregoire of Washington, Rell of Connecticut, Pawlenty of Minnesota and Schweitzer of Montana all have proposed freezing college costs in place at some or all state institutions. Lawmakers in Ohio and Texas are looking at the idea too.
It's no mystery why policymakers are making these proposals now. Tuition rates at public colleges and universities have greatly outpaced inflation in recent years. Many students have seen their bills go up by 10% or more in a single year, then rise by a similar amount again the next. Financial accessibility has long been a hallmark of public higher education in the United States, but, more and more, that's being called into doubt.
Elected officials would do well, however, to understand the root cause of these tuition increases: elected officials.
In the lean years for state government earlier this decade, higher education was a prime source for cuts.
From FY 2002 to FY 2005, the amount of state tax dollars dedicated to higher education increased by a total of 0.62%, not nearly enough to keep up with inflation and population growth (in '05 there were a million more college students than in '02). Only now is state support starting to grow again in a meaningful way.
While budget writers might have been right to prioritize core services like K-12 education and health care in a tough fiscal climate, they shouldn't be shocked that their schools responded by raising tuition rates. They also shouldn't be surprised that if they impose tuition caps without new spending or a plan to make colleges more efficient, the result will be a lower quality higher education system.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.