Sunday, April 27, 2003

Guest Column

Raising tuition to make college more affordable

By James C. Garland
Miami University president

At first blush, Miami University's claim to make college more affordable for Ohio residents by doubling tuition sounds contradictory. But that is what will happen when Miami's bold new tuition plan kicks in for the class of 2004.

To see how the plan works, it is first necessary to understand the affordability problem facing Ohio public higher education.

Everybody knows a state school is a good buy because taxpayers help underwrite the cost. Thus, public tuition always reflects a discounted price from true value. What this means is that the tuition at any Ohio public university is always a bargain.

However, decades of declining state support have pushed tuitions in Ohio beyond the reach of low-income and even many middle-income families. Thus, while Ohio's colleges may still be a bargain, for many they are becoming an unaffordable bargain.

Unless this trend is reversed, Ohio risks creating an inequitable public higher education system where upper-income students would be subsidized by taxpayers of more modest means.

Miami will address this problem by first increasing next year's tuition from $8,350 to its true market value of $18,100, the price paid by nonresident students. The university will then give a discount of $9,750 to current Ohio students and freshmen entering autumn 2003.

When this discount is credited against the $18,100 tuition, these Ohioans will pay the same as under the old system.

However, for freshman beginning in 2004, the school will replace the flat discount with renewable scholarships. One student might receive $10,250, while another might receive $9,250. Thus the out-of-pocket cost to attend Miami will vary from student to student, in this example by $1,000. Those receiving larger scholarships will end up paying less than under the old system.

While the new program will help low-income students, special priority will also be given to families whose incomes range approximately from $40,000 to $100,000. These middle-income taxpayers earn too much to qualify for federal and state aid but often have mortgages, several children in college and other heavy financial burdens.

One of our goals is to start replacing their college loans with scholarships. In accord with our public mission, we will also award bigger scholarships to students who can contribute in areas important to Ohio's well-being and economic development.

However, even students from Ohio's wealthiest families are guaranteed always to receive scholarships that are more than the per-capita support Miami receives from the state. Thus while some upper-income students will pay more under the new system, all Ohioans will be treated equitably and all will benefit greatly from their Ohio residency.

But under this new plan, is Miami turning itself into a kind of educational Robin Hood, making the rich pay more, so that others will pay less?

Not at all, because students always have the final say. Applicants will evaluate our scholarship offers by weighing their out-of-pocket cost against the value of a Miami education. Students will also compare our offers with those from other universities. In the end, the choice to attend Miami rests in their hands. Since Miami applicants also apply to other colleges, they have numerous alternatives if they don't like our offers.

The plan does not mean that Miami is becoming private or more elite. Rather it means that Miami is bringing the competition and efficiency of the private sector to a public university environment in a new way. Our competition will keep us on our toes by compelling us to offer a high quality education at the best possible value.

By expanding scholarship opportunities for Ohioans, the plan will help Miami better discharge its core public responsibilities.

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GUEST COLUMNIST: James Garland, Miami U. president
Raising tuition to make college more affordable

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