Tough Course in Tuition Aid: States in Budget Hell Are Slashing Subsidies to Their Colleges and Universities. Those Schools Educate 80 Percent of Our Students

By Quinn, Jane Bryant | Newsweek, June 23, 2003 | Go to article overview

Tough Course in Tuition Aid: States in Budget Hell Are Slashing Subsidies to Their Colleges and Universities. Those Schools Educate 80 Percent of Our Students


Quinn, Jane Bryant, Newsweek


Byline: Jane Bryant Quinn

As college tuition continues to jump, say a prayer for the able children of the working poor. They're being squeezed the most. You might think that families with low or moderate incomes would get extra student aid to help cover costs, but you'd be wrong. These days, the majority of aid goes to the offspring of the middle and upper-middle classes.

Consider the federal Pell Grants, created in 1972 to help low- and moderate-income students get a college education. At first, Pells were large enough to cover 84 percent of the fixed costs at four-year public institutions, reports the College Board. But over the years, Congress let the Pells' value erode, so now they cover just half as much. Next year, Pell grants will range from $400 to $4,050, depending on your financial need. That steers many of the poor toward two-year community colleges instead of four-year schools, like it or not.

Meanwhile, the states in budget hell are slashing subsidies to state two-year and four-year colleges and universities. Those are the very schools that educate 80 percent of America's students. Seeing the handwriting on the blackboard, state schools are downsizing--cutting programs, firing professors, even limiting enrollments. But that's not enough. Tuition and fees at four-year state colleges will probably rise an average of 12.5 percent for students who live in-state, on top of a 9.6 percent hike last year. Room and board expenses could rise by 6 percent or more.

Not every school budget is getting the chop. In a survey last week, the State Higher Education Executive Officers organization found 18 states likely to raise their spending on higher education--in some cases, restoring cuts that were made last year. But 24 states foresee cuts, averaging 5 percent. (The rest are still negotiating.)

In a few states, tuition has shot the moon. Northern Arizona University will charge $3,596 next year--a 39 percent hike--following a decision by the state's Board of Regents to end its former low- tuition policy. Students at San Diego State may pay at least $2,410, up 25 percent. Last year, California levied a 10 percent midyear hike in tuition, too. At Indiana University in Bloomington, returning students will pay just 4 percent more, but the bill for new students will rise 22.6 percent, to $6,517. Then there's room and board.

State grant programs are being battered, too. Last year Illinois cut 8,500 students out of its Monetary Award Program. This year, the number of needy students is up 8 percent, but there's no extra MAP money on the table.

Two-year community colleges depend more on state funding than any other type of school. …

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