Colleges eye higher tuition for honors, high-cost programs

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Capital News Service
LANSING — To cover the costs of honors and higher-priced degree programs, public universities across the state are moving toward differential tuition, charging more for programs that are more expensive to deliver, have a high demand or high job placement according to a report by the Presidents Council.
Undergraduate programs such as engineering, health sciences, business administration and computer science all require more funding, whether it be for lab equipment, smaller class sizes or a higher faculty to student ratio. And some public universities are requiring students to pay out-of-pocket for those curricula.
“Although it has been a slow-growing practice in American public higher education in the past decade, the primary rationale is to charge students more of a market rate for specific programs or groups of programs they’re enrolled in, especially those that cost more to run,” said Dan Hurley, chief executive officer of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

Although the 15 public institutions in the state set their own tuition, those with differential tutition charge engineering majors more than a cheaper-to-educate English major, whether they’re coming from in or out-of-state.
For example, Oakland University raised its tuition in July for the schools of Nursing, Engineering & Computer Sciences and Business Administration.
Western Michigan University has also instituted differential tuition. Last fall, $2 million collected through differential tuition allowed its business school to hire five full-time faculty members, and Western is in the process of hiring a staff member in the career center. Some of the additional money is being used for 300 scholarships for study abroad and research assistantships.
But upperclass students aren’t the only ones seeing a hike in tuition. Those in the honors program at Grand Valley State University pay an extra $20 per credit hour for “tuition differential” on top of the $300 base fee, which adds up to about $400-$500 more over four years.
Other programs at Grand Valley, such as nursing and engineering, collect this differential tuition as well. University officials describe these higher rates as a way to pay for services that students in these programs use exclusively or more intensively than other students.
Jeff Chamberlain, director of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, explained that the additional fee is simply used to pay for programs that are more expensive to run without raising the cost of tuition for everyone.
“I don’t know if differential tuition is the perfect way at reducing the costs of public institutions, but we’re doing the best we can to keep costs low. It reaches a point where funds have to come from somewhere, and when state appropriations aren’t enough, we have to reallocate where the money comes from,” said Chamberlain.
And although the additional revenue allows for enhancement of the quality of programs, there’s concern that higher-priced programs could become inaccessible for lower-income families and minorities.
Hurley said there are options for those who need financial assistance. He and the Presidents Council want to ensure that first-generation college students aren’t discouraged from applying to higher-cost programs due to their socioeconomic status.
“There are tremendous scholarships and initiatives out there for low-income families,” Hurley said.
Universities such as Oakland are working towards reducing the net cost of attendance with institutional grants and scholarships.
In addition, graduating seniors in the schools of Health Sciences, Business Administration, Engineering and Computer Sciences will receive an additional $1.1 million in scholarships next year.

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