Higher ed faces catch-22

Polls show support for lowering tuition costs — and state spending.

The Editorial Board

Report after report has shown the explosion in the cost of higher education for students. Indeed, tuition for in-state residents at the University of Minnesota has more than doubled in the previous 10 years, increasing by more than seven percent in eight of those 10 years.
Because of high tuition and fees students may not even be able to afford college. If they can, students may have to work more hours while school is in session. Finally, when students graduate, many will have increased debt loads. 
A recent poll taken at the Minnesota State Fair on behalf of the state Legislature showed that a huge majority — 73 percent — of those questioned supported “the Legislature tak[ing] steps to limit tuition and fee increases at public colleges and universities.” While it is nice to see empathy for students’ plight, things aren’t so simple. Giving the state control of tuition and fees would mean it had the power to dictate two large sources of revenue (tuition and public funding). Eighty-five percent of respondents would also like state spending cuts to be part of the budget solution, some of which would most likely come from higher education.
Mandating lower tuition with one hand while increasingly cutting off funding with the other would put the University in an impossible and unsustainable financial situation.
The best way to keep tuition down is to increase state funding for higher education: If institutions get more revenue from one source, they feel less pressure to squeeze revenue from another. Any effort to regulate tuition at public colleges and universities must come paired with a rededication to adequate state funding for higher education.