University tuition increases, overhaul receive criticism from students

The new fee structure will eliminate course fees and implement a 'tiered tuition proposal' while raising the base tuition

The University’s announcement Friday of its new tuition and fee structure received criticism from students. 

The new system, slated to take effect in the 2019-20 academic year, would determine undergraduate tuition through a tiered model. Some students are worried that the plan will lead to a higher cost of attendance and lack of transparency. 

The tuition overhaul, pending approval by the Arizona Board of Regents in April, aims to simplify the bill students pay for tuition, ASU president Michael Crow said in an interview with The State Press. The model consolidates course and degree-specific fees into one of four major-specific amounts, which is then added onto the base tuition cost to determine a student’s final bill.

The four tiers are based on a student’s degree program. Out-of-state and international students will pay a higher base tuition and higher tiered fees compared to Arizona residents.

Some fees, like those instituted for hybrid courses and iCourses, will be eliminated.

Read more: ASU overhauls fee structure in new tuition proposal

The proposal is intended to make tuition "predictable" and "as simple as possible," Crow said.

But some students disagreed that the new structure would increase transparency. 

"When our fees were itemized, it was very transparent what our money was going to," said Kaylie Volpe, a senior studying marketing.

Volpe said that "even though it was annoying to know that you were getting charged for athletics when you have no interest in that," the new tuition proposal "looks negative for students no matter what" because it eliminates the itemized breakdown.

Gregory Wolniak, an associate professor at the University of Georgia who has researched the socioeconomic effects of college, said that it is important for colleges to be upfront about their costs of attendance and that the simplified proposal accomplishes that.

But he added that while the University can set its own policy, it should be held accountable to "basic consumer protection concepts."

A lack of transparency "erodes the ability of students to make optimal decisions," Wolniak said, but ASU's proposal is actually "very clear" and could be “a step in the right direction.”

Some students who would pay less under the proposed tuition overhaul still expressed concerns about how it would affect the rest of the student body.

Bryan Perez is a junior studying secondary education with a focus in English at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, which currently does not charge major-specific tuition. Under the new tuition and fee structure, Perez would not pay a tiered fee for his major.

Perez said that while "it's nice" to be in the $0 tier, he's worried that it "may be unfair to other students that they have to pay more."

Glen Nelson, chief business officer and faculty member at Idaho State University, has researched differential tuition — charging students different amounts based on major — and its socioeconomic impact. 

He said that preliminary research has shown that differential tuition could cause students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds to migrate toward lower-cost majors. 

"So you now have the potential impact of differential tuition that students may choose their course of study or their major based on price rather than aptitude and ability," Nelson said.

A possible fix would be to provide targeted financial aid for students, making "the choice between engineering and English a non-financial choice,” Nelson said. 

ASU already institutes differential tuition, Nelson said, and the proposal would simply be "a new way to present" it. 

But the fee overhaul is a change from previous fee structures in which all students paid the same fee for various degree programs regardless of residency. Under the new model, out-of-state students could face a large increase in differential tuition.

For Susan Cihelka, a junior from California studying civil engineering, the change could result in an increase of more than $700 for the year.

This academic year, Cihelka paid $800 in Fulton tuition and $228 in additional course fees, totaling $1,028. Next year, the fourth-tier Fulton tuition would cost her $1,800. 

Cihelka said that the previous cost breakdown "wasn’t complicated at all."

"I knew where everything was going, and if I didn’t know, I could look it up," Cihelka said. "The price difference is absolutely insane … That could be going to rent, utilities, books or supplies."

Additionally, ASU will provide grants to partially subsidize in-state students whose total tuition increases by more than 3 percent, and will do the same for out-of-state and international students who face an increase higher than 5 percent.

The grants for non-resident students go beyond Crow’s promise to in-state students that tuition will not rise by more than 3 percent per year, which he plans to renew for another 10 years. 

Some critics, like Cesar Aguilar, executive director of the Arizona Students' Association, said that tuition shouldn't be increasing at all. Instead, the state legislature should provide more funding to keep the cost stable, he said.

"We should be freezing tuition, especially considering student debt," which reached $1.56 trillion nationally this year, Aguilar said.

Cihelka said that the new proposal can take away from the University's message of inclusivity

"ASU promotes inclusivity, but this proposal sends students coming from a lower socioeconomic status a different message — that higher education is inclusive to anyone that can afford it," Cihelka said.


Reach the reporter at bpietsch@asu.edu and follow @bryan_pietsch on Twitter. 

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