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President Obama stresses affordable college tuition

February 10, 2012

While President Barack Obama has warned universities that they have to keep tuition down, campus officials say UW-River Falls remains affordable compared to other schools.

Blake Fry, special assistant to the chancellor, said in an email that UWRF and the UW-System are trying to be as fair as possible given the recent budget cuts they have faced.

“For 2009-2010 (the latest figures available), UW-River Falls’ net price was $9,101 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The national average for public four-year universities is $10,747.”

Obama said that state governments must start doing their part working to keep the costs down for universities, which in turn will lower the tuition to attend that university. If state governments and universities do not lower tuition, federal aid will be reduced.

What does this mean for UWRF? Obama has proposed “reforms to federal campus-based air programs to shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep net tuition down, and toward those colleges and universities that do their fair share to keep tuition affordable, provide good value, and serve needy students well.”

An institution’s net price is decided by “subtracting the average amount of federal, state/local government, or institutional grant or scholarship aid from the total cost of attendance. Total cost of attendance is the sum of published tuition and required fees (lower of in-district or in-state), books and supplies, and the weighted average for room and board and other expenses,” Fry said.

Keeping in mind that within the UW-System, tuition has increased 5.5 percent, “I would speculate that a similar pattern will continue in the near future,” Fry said.

In regards to the state government awareness of lowering tuition from universities, the state of Wisconsin has reduced the funding by “$6.6 million in the past 10 years and $13.5 million when inflation is added,” Fry said. “Given these huge cuts, I would contend the UW-System has shown considerable restraint in increasing tuition.” Fry also makes the note that “some public universities have seen tuition increases of more than 50 percent over the past two years.”

In the State of the Union Address, Obama addressed the issues of keeping enrollment up, making sure students graduate on time and have quality teachers that instruct them.

Fernando Delgado, UWRF provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, said “stopping tuition from going up is easier said than done, especially if one also wants to maintain access to students (and more students), timeliness to graduation, and quality experiences with faculty and staff and in a quality learning environment.” Delgado concluded that with these policies and regulatory activities in place, this will cost the state and universities more in terms of time, people/salaries, resources, supplies, and electronic environments. He also said that UWRF might be able to produce more elite programs but that is not what public schools are about.

“They are about educational attainment,” Delgado said.

Davida Alperin, a professor in the political science department at UWRF, said “we need to invest in higher education. There is this notion of equal opportunity in this country but some can afford it [higher education] and others cannot.”

“It is penny-wise, poundfoolish to not invest in higher education. We might be able to save a few dollars if taxes are lower but they [government] will be investing in future of the state if taxes are higher,” Alperin said.

Delgado believes that if the state and federal government do not do anything about the tuition costs, it will “shift costs on students.”

Both Alperin and Delgado agreed that if the federal government can do something to make higher education more affordable for Americans, then they should try to achieve that by a reasonable means necessary.

Leah Ticknor, a sophomore elementary education student at UWRF said, “I am paying for college on my own with no help from my parents and, if college tuition increases, I will have to drop out to raise more money because I won’t get enough financial aid.”

Student Zac Luther, a junior broad field social studies education student at UWRF, said “it would be great if Obama’s plan could pass. There would be more incentives to go to college and make it more possible to get a degree for many individuals. But if it doesn’t pass, then it won’t be too much different than the trend we’ve seen the past few years with tuition increases.”

In the months to come during the political campaigns, America will find out what will happen with Obama’s plan for affordable tuition at universities across the country. Depending on what is passed by Congress or not, the UW-System could be seeing these changes in the near future.