Why students might not like a stable-tuition program

Just got back from the House higher ed committee hearing in which Rep. Bruce Vogel (R-Willmar) proposed an optional stable-tuition system for the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.

Starting this fall, students would essentially be charged the same tuition for all four years (or two years at a community college) if they got their degrees in those periods.

Naturally, students would be charged higher rates, at least in the first year or two. But the tuition charged could even out over the years, so they wouldn't necessarily end up paying more than they would have normally.

But that's if they graduate -- and that's where the snag is.

I'll put aside comments by House reps and concentrate on the testimony of Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst for undergraduate education a the University of Minnesota.

He said the U indeed had such a program. It was more attractive than today's because it allowed students to graduate in five years, and refunded the difference if they ended up paying more than they would have normally.

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But the university canceled it last year after about a decade due to lack of interest:

"Only 100-150 a year were interested, so we did away with it. It was an administrative burden.

I asked myself why there was not much interest. I found two things:

  1. Initial sticker shock. If you're going to guarantee tuition in  5-year program, the difference (between the initial tuition program price and the normal price) may be 20 percent. Even if you get it back, there's still that initial sticker shock.

  2. The only way you could lose in the program is if you dropped out. And most make it through. But when you’re a freshman, you’re thinking about all those things. It's not clear whether you're going to make it. It may have been that risk (that kept students away)."

Vogel said the bill was to encourage such a program, and not mandate it. The committee agreed to give the bill further consideration.