A bill seeking to freeze tuition at public two and four-year institutions of higher education has been calendared for next week’s House Education Subcommittee. The bill, SB1683 by Sen. Dolores Gresham (HB2179 by Rep. Barrett Rich), requires colleges and universities to create a cohort-style tuition freeze program for in-state students that maintain a cumulative collegiate GPA of 3.0 or higher. The bill’s definition of tuition includes all fees that must be paid to attend an institution. As such, the bill encompasses not just tuition, but course fees, program service fees, student activity fees, registration fees, and matriculation fees. As drafted, there is no “end-date” to the proposed freeze program, meaning if passed as drafted, it would last for perpetuity or until repealed.
In general, cohort-style tuition freezes lead to exponential tuition increase growth from cohort-to-cohort. A simple (and hypothetical) example helps explain:
Say the cohort tuition freeze program goes into effect for entering freshman. During their tenure, if they meet the requirements of the bill and graduate within 8-semesters, their tuition rate would be frozen.
The following year, rates for rising-sophomores would be frozen, so the institution—to be able to account for lost revenues, increased fixed costs, and operational needs—must significantly raise the tuition rate for the new class of incoming freshman. Instead of the increases being spread across two cohorts, they are spread across one. The effect continues from year-to-year, leading to large increases from cohort-to-cohort.
For a number of years, legislators have been concerned about the perceived “rising cost of higher education.”
It isn’t so much that the cost of higher education has risen, but rather that the party “footing the bill” has changed. As state funding for higher education has declined over the past ten years, students have picked up more and more of the cost burden. In reality, the cost of higher education has remained relatively stable.