- Dwindling student enrollment suggests a growing number of state university systems will freeze tuition, according to an article in the Times Higher Education. The trend worries some higher education experts who say the move to entice more students might backfire by siphoning off money universities could apply to financial aid, especially for disadvantaged students.
- For example, the University of Illinois system and Northern Illinois University maintained a multi-year freeze on in-state tuition. But student enrollment at Illinois institutions has declined due to a state budget impasse that forced cutbacks at public colleges and universities, and because the state’s population is decreasing.
- John Douglass, a higher education researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, said that his university was able to increase low-income student enrollment after it raised tuition during the Great Recession during the late 2000s.
In the last few years, the list of colleges considering or implementing tuition freezes has been growing, and some colleges are even offering in-state tuition to out-of-state students. While the trend is good for students and their families, it is not lessening the cost of operating a college, especially as rising health care costs continue to hold a tight squeeze on institution budgets. And last year, the higher education sector recorded its highest inflation rate since 2008, according to the Commonfund Institute.
Several colleges are struggling to afford tuition freezes, and consequently, they must make sacrifices elsewhere. Following a tuition freeze, future tuition could spike considerably to make up for the loss. Other schools have frozen faculty salaries in order to minimize tuition hikes.
Overall, the financial picture for higher education is bleak and colleges will have to figure how to do more with less. Being entrepreneurial and leveraging valuable assets are best strategies for thriving with financial uncertainty. Still, universities must deliver a stronger case for public support, and making that case will be difficult unless they prove they are doing everything possible to keep down costs.