One of the things that annoyed me about state Representatives Deb Wallace and Glenn Anderson’s interview regarding higher education funding was their instant dismissal of proposals to move to a high tuition/high financial aid model.
At least Anderson was ideologically honest, objecting to wealthy families paying full fare by saying that “we’re not a class society.” Okay. Wrong. But fair enough.
Wallace on the other hand, brushed off the suggestion by saying that the math doesn’t work… implying that the state would have to come up with more financial aid dollars to offset the higher tuition costs, and that ultimately it would make college less affordable for low and middle income families.
First of all, that’s just plain dumb. Let’s say you’re a low to middle income student currently receiving financial aid in the form of $3,000 in grants, and the UW suddenly jacks up its $6,800/year in tuition and fees to $17,800. Now let’s say the UW (ie, the state) increases your grant by another $11,000 to offset the hike. How much extra money did this cost the state? Zilch. You were paying $3,800/year and you’re still paying $3,800. It’s a zero sum game.
But if you’re a student from a wealthy family, who does not need financial aid, and thus does not qualify for it, you’re suddenly paying an extra $11,000 into the system… money that can be spent to increase the quality of education at the UW, or expand the number of seats, or even lower the costs for truly needy students.
That’s how this model works, and at many of our nation’s most prestigious private universities, it generally works damn well.
For example, I just received an email to alumni from University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, in which she explains how the economic downturn has impacted the university’s finances, and what it is doing to lessen the impact on students. In fact, despite its endowment suffering a 19-percent loss over the previous six months…
Given the new economic hardships many Americans are facing, I want to focus on the steps we are taking to strengthen Penn’s commitment to access. We can reassure prospective and current students alike that our financial aid packages will continue to meet the full need of every Penn undergraduate. We are moving forward to substitute grants for loans for all undergraduate financial aid packages beginning in September 2009. As previously outlined, typical students from families with income less than $40,000 will pay no tuition, fees, room or board. Students from typical families with incomes less than $90,000 will pay no tuition and fees. All undergraduates eligible for financial aid will receive grants rather than loans in their aid packages.
Tuition and fees at Penn for the 2008-09 academic year come to a stunning $37,526, compared to only $6,800 for in-state students at the UW. And yet, students from families with incomes less than $90,000 will typically pay no tuition and fees at all.
As you can see, for those who pay full fare, the UW would be an absolute bargain when compared to much pricier private schools, even if tuition were to rise to $17,800. That’s why the university can still attract so many students paying the $23,000 out-of-state costs. Yet for those students coming from families on the middle and lower end of the income scale… well… not so much. The problem is, we’re subsidizing all of our students, instead of just those who need it, while those supposedly elitist Ivy League schools come across as downright socialist.
So don’t tell me the math doesn’t work. The math works damn well at Penn, and hundreds of other schools. On this particular issue, it’s our legislature that isn’t working.