INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — There’s a simple math lesson that supporters of
Indiana’s public universities want state lawmakers to learn: If they
continue to reduce state funding for higher education, colleges will keep
raising tuition and fees.
“It is the logical conclusion,” said Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, a
Democrat from the college town of Bloomington. “If people want to complain
about the tuition increases, they should complain to the General Assembly.”
But Republican fiscal leaders at the Statehouse are trying to teach college
leaders another lesson — one that might have to be learned the hard way: If
universities keep raising tuition past the recommended levels, state
lawmakers can step in.
“I don’t think the universities quite get it yet,” said Sen. Luke Kenley,
R-Noblesville. “We’re trying to let them be in charge of their own destiny,
but we need them to cooperate.”
A quick look at the numbers shows why some lawmakers are so alarmed.
Students entering Indiana University at Bloomington will pay $9,500 a year
in tuition and mandatory fees alone next year, a number that doesn’t factor
in thousands of dollars in room and board or any scholarships or financial
aid. That’s an increase of 5.5 percent from last year, and rates will go up
more than 5 percent the following year, too.
If tuition and fees continued to grow at that pace, a child born this year
would have to shell out about $25,000 in tuition 18 years from now — or
$100,000 for a four-year degree. Out-of-state residents are seeing even
higher increases over the next two years: A baby born in Michigan this year
would face a shocking $380,000 bill to attend IU for four years if tuition
keeps growing at current rates.
Some think that’s out of control in a state where the median family income
is about $45,000.
“People cannot afford these high-end approaches,” Kenley said.
Kenley, the head budget writer in the Senate, has threatened action before.
In 2009, he held university construction projects hostage because of
unhappiness over tuition increases. He relented when colleges took action.
IU created a program for students to receive discounts if they get good
grades, and Purdue agreed to increase financial aid.
The chief budget writer in the House — Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale — has
tried his own method to curb tuition hikes. He pushed for a budget this year
that would prohibit colleges from exceeding the nonbinding tuition
recommendations set by the state Commission for Higher Education. The
provision was later changed, but lawmakers say they’ll do what it takes if
colleges don’t heed these warnings.
Both Espich and Kenley, members of the state budget committee, said they
want college leaders to explain why they raised tuition beyond the 3.5
percent increase that commission set as a recommended cap. Kenley said
there’s no reason for increases higher than that.
Universities say they’ll be more than happy to explain. They’re placing part
of the blame on the General Assembly, and have numbers to back up their
IU says it exceeded the commission’s tuition recommendation of 3.5 percent
for one simple reason: Lawmakers removed all repair and rehabilitation
funding in the budget passed this year. The school’s temporary fee of $180
per student for the upcoming school year — a fee that doubles to $360 in
2012 — put the school over the 3.5 percent limit.
“The only other source that we have for it is tuition,” said IU spokesman
Larry MacIntyre, adding that IU would drop the fee if lawmakers restore
Purdue also exceeded the recommended limit by approving a 3.5 percent
tuition hike and tacking on a $91 fee.
Ball State University says its proposed tuition increase of about 4 percent
for undergraduates and 9 percent for graduate students is needed to offset
cuts in state funding.
“It clearly is a driver,” said Randy Howard, the school’s vice president for
business affairs and treasurer. “You hear a lot about the rising cost of
tuition. You don’t hear about the other leg of that revenue stream.”
University leaders say they understand the dilemma faced by state lawmakers
trying to balance Indiana’s budget as the state tries to emerge from the
recession. But they said they have few options left after leaving positions
open, restructuring health care benefits and making other changes.
Historically, state spending on higher education has steadily grown, though
higher education has been a shrinking part of the state’s overall spending
in recent years.
The cost of public education has always been shared between students and the
state, but students are paying more as the state fails to keep up with the
pace of per-pupil funding. In the 1970s, students paid about a third of the
cost, the Commission for Higher Education estimates, while students
shouldered about 50 percent of the burden in 2005.
The recession in the last few years forced state budget cuts for higher
education. Indiana, Purdue and Ball State face state funding levels in 2012
that are about the same as they were a decade ago.
The schools say the financial setbacks are especially painful as they face
rising costs and pressure to retain top faculty as they try to fulfill their
missions of being among the country’s top schools. Simpson said the demands
put on the universities don’t match up with state support, and something’s
got to give.
“We’re asking them to be the locomotive that runs economic development in
this state. We’re asking them to have the very best faculty and attract the
very best students,” Simpson said. “And we’re asking them to do it on less