Some state policymakers have made it clear they’re none-too-pleased about the increasing tuition students have to pay to attend public universities in Indiana.
In response, the state’s colleges — from Purdue, to Indiana State, to Ball State — spent the latter half of 2011 trying to find creative ways to decrease students’ costs of attendance. Last October, Indiana University announced it would cut summer tuition by 25 percent at eight of its statewide campuses.
If IU sees a 10 percent bump in summer school enrollment, as the university projects, the move will save students (and cost the school) $11 million dollars. But some students say, while the tuition break is a nice perk, the discount doesn’t change what they can afford.
IU Bloomington junior Laura Douglas says she will take summer classes this summer, but the discount didn’t have anything to do with that decision. Douglas doesn’t know of any students who are enrolling in summer classes just to take advantage of the tuition discount.
“Everybody thought it was a nice thing and was happy to save the money,” Douglas says. “But I don’t know anyone who’s made the decision to stay here just because of tuition breaks.”
Junior Calvin Hoeffler, though, says the savings are helpful. He says he’s behind in school after changing his major, so he’s going to take at least one class this summer in an effort to graduate in five years. He’ll save anywhere from $150 to $200 dollars for a 3-credit hour course. The question, for other students, is whether those savings are worth it.
University spokesperson Mark Land says IU only has preliminary registration numbers right now. Those figures show Summer 2012 enrollment has increased about one percent over last year.
Land says IU administrators realize many students are in a tough situation where they might not be able to trade school for, say, a summer job. He sees the tuition discount as a creative solution that can benefit a lot of students.
“This was a way to give them some extra incentive to get in, either get classes out of the way, or even if you want to take a pretty full load in the summer, it gives you a little flexibility in the fall or winter if you want to work. Or if you want to do some other things, You want to take some time and study abroad,” Land says.
IU president Michael McRobbie has pointed out the discount will also incentivize students to take courses at a time of year when the university has more class openings.
Ideally, tuition would be lower year-round, Land says. But he says state budget cuts and the increasing costs associated with running a university mean a tuition break in the summer is all the university can offer at the moment.
Like many colleges around the country, Indiana University’s tuition rates have been going up. Republican lawmakers and the state Commission for Higher Education have criticized IU — and gone so far as to threaten to cap tuition and even withhold funding if the university raises tuition above their recommendations.
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, told StateImpact in October that, while he personally felt a mandatory tuition cap would be disastrous, he also thinks the state’s universities haven’t done enough to keep costs — and spending — in check:
|IU Summer Discount: Savings For Full Course Load|
SOURCE: Indiana University; based on 15 credit hours + fees; discount doesn’t apply at IPFW (administered by Purdue)
We haven’t increased our funding as fast as the universities have raised tuition. If they’re always going to raise tuition at two or three times the rate of inflation, and we [the state] are just funding at the rate of inflation, we’ll always be what appears to be a smaller piece of the pie. But that’s because we’ve allowed them the freedom to make that decision, and they’re placing that relationship in jeopardy when they make those arguments and assert that somehow the state’s not doing its fair share.
State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, tells StateImpact the criticism of public colleges from some statehouse lawmakers is unfair:
It’s great theatre and great politics to haul in the presidents of universities and beat them up like piñatas and say, ‘Why are you making these poor middle class students pay so much for school?’ That, quite frankly, angers me a bit, because the people doing all the punching and all the complaining are the exact same people who made the decision not to fund higher education properly and maybe not boost up financially the way it needs to be.
Pierce and other state lawmakers with whom StateImpact has spoken say they believe IU’s tuition discount is a genuine attempt to keep student costs down. But, they say, the discount may have also helped to calm the political waters.
“It’s something they can point to that helps make college more affordable, so it makes sense that they can highlight it and let the General Assembly know that they’ve done it,” Pierce says.
Julie Rawe is a reporter and producer for Indiana Public Media News.