A Tuition Break For The Middle Class

Posted: November 01, 1991

OBERLIN, Ohio — Higher education, private and public, is too expensive.

The costs are prohibitively high, having risen 4.4 percent faster than inflation over a decade.

Last year a public outcry forced universities to slash budgets and lay off staff members.

Far from cutting tuition bills, however, these steps have only slowed the rate of increase of costs, but not much.

At most schools this year's tuition increases are still well above the rate of inflation.

Next year's increases are unlikely to be smaller, because further budget reductions would threaten basic functions.

Parents therefore face the prospect of paying $100,000 or more for four years' tuition while universities face the prospect of trimming not fat but academic muscle.

Is there a solution that would cut the price of a bachelor's degree while maintaining educational quality?

Yes. Colleges and universities should explore the possibility of a three- year baccalaureate.

Such a degree would automatically reduce the cost to families and taxpayers by nearly one-quarter.

It would bring private higher education back within the budgets of the hard-pressed middle class.

And it would provide several concrete educational benefits as well.

First it would require colleges and universities to get out of the business of providing remedial high school education.

This requires immense amounts of time and money.

But why provide it expensively at a university campus when it can be done at less cost at a community college or preparatory school?

Second, universities would have to focus more energy on undergraduate teaching, a shift of emphasis long overdue.

And they would have to concentrate on winnowing out curriculum frills.

Many courses and programs might not survive such a review, at least not in their present state.

Third, many forms of "experiential" learning being awarded course credit on many campuses would be eliminated or shifted to pre-college or post-college years.

Fourth, colleges would have to place greater stress on personal maturity among qualities they seek in candidates for admission.

Only the most mature student could handle the intensive work of a three- year B.A.

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