College Educators Defend Increases In Tuition

This story was written by Krisn Modi, The Daily Campus

In the past few years, Congress has worked to make attending college more affordable, passing bills to increase the amount of aid available to students. But despite efforts to reduce college costs, many students and their families are finding rising tuition hard to overcome during the current economic downturn.

Some bills passed by Congress include the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the College Cost Reduction Act and the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act. All bills are intended to increase financial aid and better prepare students to join the work force after their education is complete.

However, with gas prices peaking this summer at over $4 per gallon and unemployment rates nearing record highs, many students are still struggling to pay their college bills.

Michigan's unemployment rate is over 8.5 percent, while Illinois, California and Alaska are approaching 7 percent. Connecticut's rate is currently 5.4 percent, which is below the national average of about 6 percent. The U. S. has also recently seen over nine straight months of job losses. Despite the harsh economic climate, tuition costs are still on the rise.

In spite of all the challenges facing Americans during this time of crisis, many world-renowned college educators - including Princeton President Shirley Tilghman and Amherst President Anthony Marx - have gone on the record defending the increases of college tuition. They claim that in order to provide a world-class education, they must continue to add new programs and departments.

Here at the University ofConnecticut, the president's chief of staff Lisa Troyer said tuition hikes are necessary to maintain the many educational programs offered at the school. Troyer said that during these hard economic times, state and federal government revenues are taking a very hard hit. As a result, states are reducing the amount of money set aside to finance public universities. Since UConn is getting less government money, the school administration is forced to raise the sticker price in order to keep up sufficient funding.

UConn's tuition for the 2008-2009 academic year is $21,912 for out-of-state students and $7,200 for in-state students, according to the university Web site. Those fees are up from $20,760 and $6,816 last year - increases of 5.5 and 5.6 percent, respectively.

"Cutting-edge research sets institutions like UConn apart and offers an enriched learning environment for students - which, in turn, creates more opportunities for them subsequent to graduation and a more prepared workforce for our state," Troyer said. "Consequently, we see it as important to maintain the quality of our research facilities, but it is an increasing challenge with the decline in growth in federal funding."

The Daily Campus sent e-mails about the escalating cost of college education to the campaign offices of both presidential candidates. Their representatives responded.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) offers a plan that consists of a tax-credit policy, eliminating costly bank subsidies, expanding the Pell Grant for low-income families, strengthening the financial aid packages offered by community colleges and simplifying the lengthy financial aid application (FAFSA), according to a campaign spokesperson.

Under Obama's plan, the federal government will pick up the first $4,000 of a college education and will cover two-thirds of the cost for students attending a public college or university. He plans to raise the Pell Grant from a $4,050 maximum to a $5,100 maximum.

Other plans include reducing the length of the FAFSA, because its five-page, 127-question length is longer than most tax returns, as well as elimnating bank loans and replacing them with federally funded loans.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposes a plan to increase tax benefits for families with children in college and allow the government to spend more money subsidizing the cost of education. McCain also proposes tighter regulations on private student lending. He wants the government to be a lender of last resort, and also wants to simplify the FAFSA, a campaign spokesperson said.