September 1, 2008

Ever-Higher Higher-Education Bill

There are few moments in life as rewarding - and unsettling - as sending a child off to college.

He or she is on a path to great accomplishment in working toward that four-year degree. But parents can only hope it doesn't put them on the road to bankruptcy.

The cost of attending college has soared. And it might get even more expensive for students who would enroll at the University of Illinois.

The university is considering raising tuition, student fees and housing by about 8 percent for incoming freshmen this fall. Parents and students can take some comfort that the proposed tuition increase, when phased in over four years, will amount to about 3.7 percent annually, due to state tuition controls. That is close in line with the rate of inflation.

Nonetheless, parents can expect a jolt of sticker shock if this proposal is approved by the university's board of trustees. Because it would mean that the total college education bill for an incoming U of I freshman in Urbana-Champaign would in general stand at just more than $20,000 per year.

We can understand that the University of Illinois - and other state colleges and universities for that matter (Southern Illinois University is looking at an estimated $600 increase in tuition) - must meet demands for excellence in higher education. They want to offer topflight facilities and curriculum and retain the best and brightest among their teaching staff. Meanwhile, state support for higher education has been lagging.

But what are colleges and universities doing to reduce costs?

Degree programs that have flagging student interest, or that have become irrelevant in the real-world workplace, should be phased out or consolidated.

The price of textbooks is also spiraling. It's not unusual for college students to pay $900 a year for materials, a ridiculous sum. Universities should be looking at textbook rental programs, working with publishers to reduce the costs of texts or offering online versions of reading material to pare the textbook bill.

Certainly higher-education institutions do not want lose their best professors to other colleges and universities that pay better. But salaries and benefits also have to be considered in the context of what is affordable to parents and students that fund this compensation.

Can savings be achieved in offering more course work online rather than in the lecture halls?

Certainly parents should expect to pay a lot for a college education. But higher-education institutions seemingly have the luxury of continuing to increase tuition and housing without consequence to their financial well-being. You see very few colleges and universities being forced to close because they priced themselves out of the market.

But that also infers that parents have an endless supply of money. And that it's tolerable for students and parents to go ever deeper in debt to pay rising college bills.

Parents are forced to make hard choices in paying for college, combing their household budgets for savings that can be directed to the higher-education bill. Colleges and universities should be expected to do the same with their budgets before asking these parents for more.

(c) 2008 Daily Herald; Arlington Heights, Ill.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.