Students at the University of California-Berkeley campus confer in a hallway between classes.
Public universities are promising to freeze tuition as leverage to restore state funding lost during the economic recession that first hit the nation nearly five years ago.
University systems in Arizona, California, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire have proposed to hold the line on tuition for state residents in exchange for a steady or increased stream of tax dollars. State legislatures will meet in January to consider the plans.
The strategy follows years of increases. Tuition and fees jumped 15% between 2008 and 2010, led by increases of more than 40% at universities that include those in Arizona and California, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Education report.
The proposals also come on the heels of several years of steep reductions in state dollars that have resulted in budget-cutting measures like layoffs, hiring freezes and academic program reductions.
In Iowa, the Legislature slashed funding by 25% over three years. New Hampshire lawmakers cut support by 49% over two years. Arizona’s universities have lost more than $400 million since 2008.
Some universities are breaking decades-old precedents. Students in Iowa have paid more in tuition each year since 1981. Arizona and New Hampshire froze state tuition 20 and 23 years ago, respectively. Also driving the shift is rising public concern about college affordability, said Iowa Board of Regents President Craig Lang. College graduates in 2010 carried an average of $25,250 in student loan debt, according to the Project on Student Debt’s most recent report.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, some legislators have said they’re willing to consider the proposals.
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