The Right Questions About Cutting Tuition

Mount Holyoke announced recently that it would not raise tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year. The announcement drew the typical coverage--some meandering thoughts about college cost and boilerplate assurances from the institution itself that it is dedicated to responding to rising college costs and making its brand of education accessible to a broader public.

That is all well and good, but if we are going to take the cost of college seriously, then the institutions who freeze or cut tuition and the people who write about them need to get much more serious about explaining the contexts and purposes of their decisions (as do the people who raise tuition, but that is for another post).

At the very least, any reporter covering the announcement of a tuition freeze or cut should ask the following:
  • Is the reduction in tuition costs accompanied by reductions in institutional aid?
  • Is it accompanied by changes in enrollment goals, or put another way, are you making up the difference by enrolling more students?
  • How do you expect the reduction of tuition to effect the school's revenue in the coming year?
  • Are you reducing expenditures in the coming year?  If so, which ones?  What are you doing with faculty and staff salaries?
  • Do you really believe that a reduction in tuition makes your school accessible to students who would not otherwise be able to afford it?  What evidence do you have?
  • What steps are you taking to ensure that the quality of the education you provide improves?
  • Why cut tuition instead of doing other things to reduce costs to students--i.e. speeding up time to graduation, reducing room and board costs, enrolling more transfer students from community colleges, increasing funding for students to work on campus?
Absent answers to these questions, I can't help but think that a tuition freeze or cut is more about publicity than improving access, reducing cost, and ensuring an excellent education to all students.

Gary Daynes, Collaborating Consultant