ANOTHER Twist in Ensuring Access to Higher Education

I read an article today in the NYT that, honestly, shocked the daylights out of me. I'll admit that I can be optimistic at best, sometimes naive at worst...but maybe some of you will be just as repelled by this idea as I am. The article, highlights an increasingly common practice by public universities to charge higher tuition for classess in certain majors, such as business, engineering and journalism. Proponents, if you can call them that, because the practice seems to make even the "advocates" queasy, justify the differential pricing as a market necessity that helps to attract the best faculty or cover the higher "technical" costs of certain majors (like engineering). Some advocates go so far as to justify the practice based on the ability of the graduates to repay what will almost certainly be larger student loans - the ends justify the means.

Evidence is beginning to mount that charging higher rates for certain majors is causing low income students to change their plans, effectively pricing them out of certain courses of study. I've written here before about the critical need to support lower-income students in achieving degrees without mortgaging their futures. Now, apparently, we also need to ensure that lower-income students not only have an economically viable chance at attending their institution of choice, but now, to also study in their field of choice.

Having sat on the board of trustees at my college, a small liberal arts school in Illinois called Knox College, I can appreciate the cost of providing a high-quality college education. But as donors, as business people, as citizens we have a responsibility to break down opportunity barriers. In my book, this practice of "market pricing" for certain courses of study is just another way to perpetuate the have and have-not-ness in our communities. I challenge each of us to reach out to our alma maters (to which I'm sure we all give some amount of money) and deal with the root issue here - the cost of providing a quality education in certain fields is more significant than others - to ensure that our support can prevent more institutions from resorting to this ill-conceived and counterproductive practice. Like foundations, higher education institutions look to each other for endorsement of their practices...let's stop this bad idea in its tracks.

Nancy DeFauw

Posted at 6:34 AM, Jul 31, 2007 in Education | Permalink | Comment