Students who major in programs like math, science or business at public universities may pay higher tuition than their peers in other majors. “Differential tuition” programs charge higher tuition than the regular college cost for these in-demand subjects, which arguably cost more to teach, require more resources, and often lead to more lucrative jobs.
While engineering and science classes do demand more resources from colleges and universities, is charging extra money to students in the programs really the answer to tight budgets? At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, business and engineering students pay $50 more a credit (delmarvanow.com). This tuition hike may discourage low-income students from pursuing certain majors, making it more difficult for them to eventually secure lucrative positions.
Popular classes also affected
Degree programs aren’t the only aspect of college education to be affected by differential tuition. Santa Monica College, a community college in California, recently revealed a plan to charge higher fees for individual classes that are in high demand because of the requirements for transfer that many four-year schools demand, as Care2′s Kristina Chew wrote last month. Santa Monica students would be able to reserve a spot in these classes by paying $180 per credit hour instead of $46.
Students and faculty alike were troubled by the implications of this two-tier tuition program, as many students unable to pay the higher price would likely be edged out of required classes by those with more financial resources. However, any action on the proposal has been canceled, as the two-tier system would be illegal under the California Education Code because of equal opportunity education laws.
Who really benefits from localized tuition increases? Does the revenue generated really provide more resources for students who are paying it? At a time when schools across the country are scrambling for money, it’s hard not to see differential tuition programs as a fundraising scheme. And for students who are already worried about being able to afford college, paying a higher tuition rate for a certain major is not an attractive option– and may reroute them into a field of study that they aren’t passionate about.
I would argue that students are the losers in this plan — either because they are missing out on educational opportunities, or because they are entering degree programs that have already been narrowed down by economic advantage, taking away the benefits that diversity provides for intellectual and emotional education. Let’s hope that equal opportunity education laws keep this practice contained to a few disciplines in certain schools… otherwise we could end up with an education system that keeps low-income or financially students down rather than working to raise them up.
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