Archive for Sunday, September 9, 2007

Some call tuition disparity unfair

Provost: Higher fees may price students out of majors

September 9, 2007


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Differential tuition

Differential tuition has enabled schools to do more with their programs than ever before. It's led to new faculty and degrees, but it's also prompted concerns. KU School of Business Dean talks here about what differential tuition is important to his school.

On the street

Do you think tuition costs should differ among schools at Kansas University?

It doesn’t really bother me too much. You know what you’re doing when you go for your major.

More responses

At Kansas University, tuition for in-state freshmen costs $213 per credit hour, but that hardly tells the whole story of the price of a college education.

Even ignoring room and board, or required campus fees, a sizable additional cost comes from differential tuition, or course fees, which range from $13.80 per credit hour in the School of Journalism to as much as $156.80 per hour for master's degree classes offered in the School of Business.

Those extra costs add up quickly. They've prompted concerns about the equity of declaring that some degrees are worth more than others, or of pricing poorer students out of certain degrees or fields.

"I don't know any university presidents or provosts who are happy with differential tuition," KU Provost Richard Lariviere said. "In some ways, it's an indictment of the political process we go through in setting tuition."

The price

This is the start of Janae Newman's second year at KU.

She's a pre-pharmacy student from Kansas City, Kan. Assuming she's taking the recommended class schedule for a pre-pharmacy student, she's paying about $6,400 for tuition this year.

But come next year, when she begins taking classes in the School of Pharmacy, her tuition will jump to about $10,500. As a pharmacy student, she'll be paying $140.25 extra per credit hour for each class next year.

"I don't really know how it's justified," she said. "All courses should be a standard amount."

Still, Newman's taking a realistic view of the extra costs of her six-year pharmacy education, which will result in her earning a doctoral degree. She considers it an investment.

According to four-year course fee projections that KU released this year, Newman will have paid at least an additional $20,010 for her degree. And that number is probably low, considering KU has not set the differential tuition for her final year. The trend has been an increase each year.

The concern

Lariviere said the university has seen anecdotal evidence that the huge numbers, like the one Newman faces, are beginning to price students out of certain majors.

Instead of pursuing a pharmacy or engineering degree, poorer students, particularly those in minority groups, may be choosing less expensive majors, like Spanish or English.

KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said last weekthat KU has started to do research on whether this anecdotal evidence is supported - or if minority enrollments have held up. While it's too early for results, she said early indicators are that there has actually been a slight increase in the number of minority students in certain programs like engineering.

"A significant portion of tuition enhancement and differential tuition is set aside for scholarship money," Lariviere said. "I'm pretty sure that's why our numbers have held steady."

In the School of Law, which charges even more than pharmacy, Dean Gail Agrawal said about one-fourth of all differential tuition money goes to student scholarships. The differential tuition rate increases $25 next year, making the law school's rate the highest.

Agrawal said the skyrocketing cost of a legal education, though not particularly at KU, has her terribly concerned.

In fact, KU's price, with differential tuition, remains below the median and the mode of public law schools across the country.

But it still bothers Agrawal that such a practice is necessary.

"A public education has the power to change lives. It changed mine, and I think we can change these students," she said. "I'm committed to keeping the price down and providing as much financial aid as possible."

If that doesn't happen, Agrawal said, she's concerned the bar and the bench, the lawyers and the judges, will become the domain of the white and the wealthy.

"If that happens, that will be the failure of our judicial system," she said.

The rationale

In the School of Business, differential tuition led to four new majors, about 10 new faculty positions and about $500,000 per year in new student scholarships and salaries.

Dean William Fuerst said students came to him requesting differential tuition. They were getting paid less because they didn't have the specialized degrees, like finance or supply chain management, that their competitors at other schools had. In a way, these students are borrowing from their future earnings to pay higher costs now, he said.

An undergraduate business student pays $86 per business class credit hour this year.

"This was a highly student-led process," Fuerst said. "Students saw this as an opportunity to invest in their careers. We're just executing the plan the students developed."

Fuerst said he meets regularly with students to make sure they're still reaping the benefits of differential tuition.

School of Journalism Dean Ann Brill said her school took a touch-it, feel-it approach to instituting its differential tuition.

"We're only using differential tuition money for things the students can use," she said.

The school has invested in computers, software and student salaries with its differential tuition money. The Journalism School has the lowest differential tuition rate of the eight schools that charge it.

"The cost is really not prohibitive," Brill said. "Because of differential tuition, the kinds of tools you need to be a journalist, we're going to provide to you."

The future

KU is by no means the only school using differential tuition. The universities of Wisconsin, Nebraska and Arizona State, among others, all charge differential rates using their own formula.

Lariviere, KU's provost, said he'd like nothing better than to be able to get rid of differential tuition across the board.

"It sends the message that some degrees are worth more than others, which isn't right," he said.

But the reality is, he said, in almost every case, that's not possible. While he said the university could probably afford to, hypothetically, eliminate the fees in journalism or the School of Fine Arts, other differential tuition rates are so high it's just not possible.

"They're so big in terms of the money we raise that we'd have to raise tuition across the board," he said. "And is it fair to ask an English major to pay a lot more per year so another student can get a pharmacy degree?"

And students like Newman and freshman Ashley Robb, for the most part, seem to have come to grips with that reality.

"I understand that certain degrees, like nursing, are more expensive," said Robb, a communications studies major. "You have to pay for equipment in certain majors.

"But I think it does send the message that certain degrees are worth more."

And that's the last thing academic administrators want to hear.


Michael Stanclift 10 years, 7 months ago

I think the LJW ran this same story a couple weeks ago. It seemed pointless then, and there has been no new information since then... is it just me or does it seem like the LJW has just been "reaching" for stories recently?

Sean Livingstone 10 years, 7 months ago

KU has one of the lowest tuition rate in this country, plus room and board are pretty affordable (again compared to other states). It still attracts a large number of out of state students as even the out of state tuition plus room and board are still cheaper than their own states in-state and room/board. Sometimes, you pay for quality too. KU has a good reputation and it's not like many other Universities that you will pay lower tuition but you may not get the quality. I think KU's tuition plus room/board are fair.

toefungus 10 years, 7 months ago

Too many people go to research universities these days, which KU trys very hard to be. The tuition should be $500 a credit hour for everyone. Then trade schools would emerge to teach people job skills. I think most business degrees are trade school degrees too. Do you know of anyone that has improved the human condition with an MBA?

imastinker 10 years, 7 months ago

autie, that is what bothers me more than anything else.

The last two years of school, I worked a full time job and supported my wife and I (and a baby - daycare!!). My wife was going through pharmacy school, the last year where they do rotations, which meant a commute of about an hour every day for her. I had to buy her a newer car to do all that driving. I was able to pay for everything but her tuition. We took out loans for that.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining about all that. What bothers me is that the university thinks that there are people who needed the money more than the three of us did. I am still paying on our student loans, loans which part of the money went to someone else. This is one of the biggest reasons (there's more) I'm still ticked off at the university and WILL NOT give any money back to my alma mater.

Janet Lowther 10 years, 7 months ago

Basic tuition is approaching the cost per hour that a full time semester cost when I started KU back in the early '70s, including fees. Excluding the fees it is probably more, and and with high-end differential tuition it way more. From the numbers presented in the article, the high-end differential tuition schools cost more per hour than a full time semester cost when I graduated. And it took me WAY more than the usual & customary four years. (I changed majors at least six times.)

daddax98 10 years, 7 months ago

I don't know about the other schools but at least at the law school the majority of students get some sort of scholarship / grant. It is not necessarily need based but merit based to entice better students to the school

denjack 10 years, 7 months ago

Interesting that the students who came to the business dean asking for differential tuition are not the same students who are now paying it. The past two years students paid the differential without the benefits such as the increased majors. If my high school student wanted to major in business the differential tuition at KU would definitely be a drawback to attending there.

belle 10 years, 7 months ago

I don't think that we always need to keep other states in mind when comparing tuition rates. If it's too much, it's too much. Kinda like gas; raise the rates, then lower them a little and people will be happy because they think they get a good deal. I'm paying a TON on student loans per month and it's making me needy, yet I didn't qualify for assistance. Like I said, if it's too much, it's too much. Fair is for you to decide, not just the comparison of other schools.

Baille 10 years, 7 months ago

"The dean of the law school states that about 25% of the tuition goes to pay for scholarships."

That isn't what the dean said. She said about one-fourth of all differential tuition money goes to student scholarships.

"So does that mean if my kid goes to law school in a few years, one fourth of what we pay goes to pay for someone else?"

No. assuming your kid gets no scholarships 1/4 of what the kid pays in differential tuition would go to scholarships.

"Thinking that we would end up cutting every corner and saving every dime plus borrrowing the rest, the idea of that really blows. Fair? Hardly."

Welcome to life. Nice you could make it.

feeble 10 years, 7 months ago

jrlii ( says:

Basic tuition is approaching the cost per hour that a full time semester cost when I started KU back in the early '70s, including fees

$6400 (cited as in the article) works out to be ~ $1233.00 in 1970, after adjustments for purchasing power and inflation.

jayrock 10 years, 7 months ago

I'm really feeling horrible for all these "poor" pharmacists and their future with 6 figure jobs. Also did it cross your mind that someone else might deserve the scholarship more then you or your son if you can afford to pay your son's way through law school then you shouldn't be complaining about anything.

Sean Livingstone 10 years, 7 months ago


"Fair is for you to decide, not just the comparison of other schools."

Let me ask you a few questions:

  1. So who should decide?
  2. So how do we know it's fair, if we have nothing to compare

The definition in the dictionary for fair: "legitimately sought, pursued, done, given, etc.; proper under the rules", so what are the rules? If we don't have rules, we don't have benchmark, and we're unable to compare to other schools, could you tell me how would you say it's fair?

You're not the only one paying for your tuition loan, everyone who go to college today will be paying their loan. Economists alway agree on this: There's no free lunch. Welcome to the real world.

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

Quadruple the differential for students of law and journalism, use it as a deterrent. We would all be better off.

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