Barron: Tuition Hikes Must be Met With Increased Financial Aid

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Barron: Tuition Hikes Must be Met With Increased Financial Aid

By Morgan Barron

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Since the beginning of my academic career in the fall of 2016, my tuition has increased by $600 as non-resident students experienced nearly a $2,000 tuition hike in those same two years. If the trend continues, in-state tuition will increase to about $8,700 and out-of-state tuition will increase to about $27,200 by the next fall semester. Students are free to access public meetings held by the University of Utah administrators, who justify tuition hikes and break down how student tuition will be spent to improve the institution. Unfortunately, while students may attend these meetings, there is no recourse for those who cannot afford the increasing financial burden. Adding to the frustrations of many students, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General has released a new report asserting that the Utah Board of Regents provides blanket approval for tuition hikes with little independent analysis.

It is neither inflammatory nor hyperbole to say that tuition costs are ballooning here at the U and at other universities nationwide. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released data showing that college tuition and fees in the United States have increased by 63%, textbook prices have increased by 88% and school housing has increased by 51% since 2006. To truly put these increases in perspective, all other consumer items have only experienced an average 21% increase since 2006. Unsurprisingly, only 45% of American students were able to independently fund their own education during the 2017-2018 academic year. 40% of students had to reduce their course hours to afford school and 51% of students unable to finance their education have dropped out of college. Decreasing financial accessibility to higher education has a direct, negative effect on our community and on our nation.

Theresa Foxley, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, is an unabashed cheerleader for the state of Utah in the business world. She works to attract business to Utah by traveling the country, meeting with CEOs and showcasing Utah’s competitive edge. One of the key aspects she focuses on in these presentations is Utah’s highly educated population — Utah ranks as the 11th most educated state — as employers would have no shortage of qualified potential employees in the community. Foxley has been successful in bringing new businesses to Utah, businesses that help Utah lead the nation in job growth. Utahns’ access to affordable, quality education is directly linked with our state’s economic growth.

During the Great Recession, tuition increased by more than 10% at public American universities with grant aid and tax benefits keeping pace with the increase. This is no longer true — financial aid has fallen far behind the demands of tuition. Middle-class students are hurt by this the most as colleges tend to focus what financial aid they do have on low-income families and utilize other monies to recruit higher income students. If college is to be accessible in Utah and the greater United States, tuition increases must be matched or outpaced by grant aid, tax benefits and scholarship increases.

Harris Simmons, the chair of the Board of Regents, claimed to be “very concerned about keeping tuition affordable.” He appears to not comprehend the impact seemingly small increases in tuition has on students, present and future. My younger sister is currently 10 years old and feels that she can hardly wait until she is old enough to attend the U and study geology. However, she may potentially face $11,100 in yearly in-state tuition, which is the likely cost of attending the U if the Utah Board of Regents continues to annually approve 3.9% tuition increases.

Improving school amenities and programs is important, but affordability has always been a key feature of Utah’s public universities. Rep. Brian King, who represents House District 28 in the Utah House of Representatives, was right when he said, “it appears to me that there’s cost shifting to the students.” If Simmons and the rest of the Board of Regents truly care about students being able to afford a quality education in Utah, they must work to match every tuition increase with an increase in financial aid.

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@TheChrony