President Obama has hit on something that should not go unnoticed by the Governor and the members of the legislature even if the Trustees at the University of Wyoming fail to get the message. "So let me put colleges and universities on notice,” said the President in the State of the Union message, “If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down."
Governors, legislators and the University of Wyoming have ignored this issue. Obama is right to call out the colleges on this. Governor Mead and the Joint Appropriations Committee should call out UW who, the day before Obama’s speech, announced they’d be asking for yet another tuition increase this year. Since 2000, UW has hiked tuition with regularity and at a rate exceeding inflation.
Students and their parents have been taught to accept tuition increases as the reality of life. A college education should not cost so much as it does. If we are going to compete in the global economy we need a far better educated work force. We need well-educated people. They need college to be affordable. Second, this is one cause of the growing disparity between the wealthy and the middle class. Wealthy families are unaffected by tuition increases. Middle class families, on the other hand, are already squeezed hard. When tuition becomes as unaffordable as it has in recent years, their children must borrow the money.
Student loans topped 100 billion dollars last year and will exceed a trillion this year. Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards. The enormous cost of a college education means a young person must take on a debt that will make him and her an indentured servant for years to come. That means young adults will be unable to buy cars, houses or other goods that help the economy grow while they are paying off these tuition loans.
It’s not just tuition. The cost of textbooks is a scandal that has gone unnoticed by University officials. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently investigated. The GAO concluded the high cost of textbooks was unwarranted. They found college textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation since the 1980s, averaging 6% per year. New editions with minimal alterations are released unnecessarily. A flap with a CD or a DVD is added. Students with the third edition are unable to sell back their expensive books because this semester there is an even higher priced 4th edition. Meanwhile, publishers make it difficult or impossible for students to take advantage of lower prices on international markets.
Significantly, the GAO also found there is a lack of concern or knowledge of these issues on campus. In other words, the University doesn’t care. It all pays the same. Here’s hoping the President makes good on this threat so that interest in the administrative building at UW grows.
Why wait for the feds? State government leaders should take action. Article 7, Section 16 of Wyoming’s Constitution provides that an education at the University of Wyoming must be “as nearly free as possible.” Admittedly those are rather vague words. However “as nearly free as possible” must have meant something to the founders who wrote those words. If state officials can’t understand the meaning, perhaps it’s time for a good lawyer to ask the courts to do so.
The Legislature should suspend any further tuition increases until the University reports back with recommendations on reforms they can make to comply with the State Constitution. There are some smart people up there who could figure out how to tie tuition rates to affordability, graduation and the ability of grads to get a job.
Requiring UW to explore the use of technology, revised course requirements and teaching techniques as well as budget priorities would yield alternatives to pricing a lot of young people out of an affordable education.