I had dinner this evening at the local iHOP in Edmond, Oklahoma, and visited with my server who is attending school at Oklahoma City University to earn his MBA. He’s having to take some time off, however, to work two jobs and earn enough money to start paying his tuition and fees again.

This got me thinking about why universities have in-state and out-of-state tuition at all? Ostensibly, universities give preference to residents from their own state who are paying state taxes and contributing to the financial base which sustains the public university system. But I wonder if this preference is justified or desirable? Shouldn’t we support as many people as possible furthering their educations, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels? I wonder if commercial, educational organizations like the University of Phoenix discriminate between state residents and non-residents? I would guess no, but I’m not sure.

I’m reminded of something David Thornburg said in the NECC 2006 webcast with Ian Jukes and Barry Vercoe. He said (I’m paraphrasing) “We need a planet filled with creative people, not just a nation.” I agree!

Educational institutions are amazingly slow to change, and I am not expecting our US institutions of higher learning to change anytime soon. But I wish they would make some changes when it comes to tuition and fees. In the early 1990s, a 3 hour graduate class at Texas Tech University cost around $250 total, not counting books. Last spring when I took my last graduate class, I paid over $800 for a single 3 hour class. I think that is inflationary ridiculousness.

The National Autonomous University of Mexico offers free tuition for students. It would probably he heresy to suggest any public university in the US adopt the same policy, but I think it’s worth considering. I know the United States is regarded as having the finest universities in the world, and a big reason for this reputation has to do with the financial systems which support them, their faculty and research programs. I am not suggesting that ALL universities should have free tuition. I am questioning, however, the assumption that we should make non-resident students (including international students) pay a ridiculously greater amount for the same educational experience at our public universities in the United States. There is a sizeable undercurrent of ethnocentrism in the immigration debates that are ongoing in the United States, and I’m guessing a lot of US citizens would support a continuation of largely elitist university educational policies. But the fact that this may be supported by public opinion does not make it the right or moral condition.

I wish university costs were less for everyone. Education opens the door to opportunity. We should work to open that door for even more students, at the K-12 and the university levels.

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On this day..

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  • Judy

    Mexico is made up of states, but in the U.S. our states seem to be much more autonomous. Since individual states provide the major funding for the institutions in their states, they charge out of state tuition. If we had a national education system, with national funding, maybe that wouldn’t be true. I attended an online university, Western Governors University (WGU), and they charged the same tuition to everyone, but they waived my application fee because I am from Colorado, one of the founding states of WGU.

    The bigger problem lies in student loans. I funded my college education with financial aid, and I ended 4 years of college with $700 in loans. My grad school, a few years later, left me with $5000 in loans. The semester I took at WGU cost me $3,000. My daughter, who is graduating soon with a bachelor’s degree, owes $17,000 in loans. She will have to work for a few years before she can hope to pursue her master’s degree. We’re poor and intelligent, but in spite of scholarships and Pell grants, the only way for either of us to attend college was to borrow money–way too much money if you ask me.

  • Having just completed my graduate work, I was able to take advantage of something here in Canada called the Western Deans Agreement. Because of this I was able to take 2 of my credits from other institutions which provided me with a more diverse experience. As far as tutition, I simply paid my home institution their regular fees regardless of the fee charged at the outside institution. In my case, my universities fees were cheaper and so it worked out well for me.

    It may not be a perfect idea but one that encourages collaboration, competition and more importantly choices for students.

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