Differential tuition — the practice of charging some college students more than others at public institutions — is on the rise, the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute reports. The study found that 143 colleges and universities are using some form of differential tuition, and that the number of schools adopting the model has grown every year since 1985. Universities say shrinking state budgets are to blame, forcing them to bump up charges for upperclassmen and those pursuing degrees — such as business, engineering, and nursing — that will lead to more lucrative jobs. Is differential tuition a fair policy?
Absolutely: Universities have to pay "competitive salaries to retain" professors who are in demand elsewhere, says The Cavalier Daily of the University of Virginia. The "market value" of business, engineering, and nursing professors is higher than that of other disciplines, and it makes sense for those programs to be more expensive. And while increased tuition would "dissuade people from low-income backgrounds" from entering those programs, "some of the additional money from differential tuition" could go toward financial aid packages. That way, "the costs and benefits weigh out."
No way: "It's not a stretch to believe that having to pay more for certain majors might influence what students choose to study," says Liz Dwyer at Good. Obviously, if you're "struggling" to pay the bills, "switching to a less-expensive major" would seem "sensible." But "more expensive majors skew toward critical" fields — meaning that differential tuition could discourage worthy students from tackling important majors, spelling "very bad news for America's future."
"Should engineering students pay more than English majors for their degrees?"
The current valuation is backwards: Universities "shouldn't be in the business of discouraging" students who want to pursue degrees in business or engineering, says Louis Lavelle at Bloomberg Businessweek — especially since those are the degrees that will "lead to a more productive and better-paid citizenry." If anything, colleges should charge more for "academic disciplines with less economic impact and poorer job prospects." As a country, "we need to decide what we value more and start pricing college accordingly."
"Differential tuition: A matter of fairness"