Universities are often derided as home to ivory towers where officials are isolated from the real world. The latest round of tuition hikes at some state universities does little to contradict that notion.
The most jarring was a nearly 9 percent hike implemented at Wayne State University. The downtown Detroit campus, which should be sensitive to a student body strapped for cash, raised tuition by about $900.
Why? Well, according to college leaders, they had no other choice. The state won’t give them the appropriations they say they need, so there is no option other than jacking up tuition costs.
No option? That’s an odd response for a university that just granted across-the-board 2.5 percent wage hikes to its faculty. That’s not a huge raise, to be sure, but it has to be weighed against the $900 tuition hike dropped on what should be the university’s most important customers: its students.
While it’s fair to say that budgets shouldn’t be balanced on the backs of professors, it’s also worthwhile to note that the average pay for instructors at Wayne State is $117,000, for which they are typically expected to teach two three-hour courses a week.
As reported in a column by Nolan Finley in the Detroit News, Wayne State leaders justify the pay scale, raises and workload because, well, that’s what the other guys do.
Finley’s column warned that universities that don’t adjust to new realities risk losing their “franchise.” He is not alone in that observation.
The world is changing. Universities that are dumping money into capital projects seem tone-deaf to the onset of online learning as well as to students (and their families) who have to wonder about investing tens of thousands of dollars into degrees that might not prepare them for the work force.
Transformation won’t be easy. Universities have huge investments in the current system. But sticking to the old ways will leave some universities in the lurch as competitors find more effective ways to reach consumers.
Tom Watkins, former state superintendent of schools, notes that endowment-rich University of Michigan and Michigan State University will be able to weather the changes.
But other universities may not be so fortunate. If they feel they have “no choice” but to ratchet up tuition, then eventually students will have “no choice” but to seek other options.
Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, Howell