Photo: Flickr / NazarethCollege
All the job prospects in the world won’t make STEM majors any happier about having to shell out more money for college debt.But that’s exactly what a recent survey by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute says is happening, as more public colleges and universities charge differential tuition—higher costs by major, college or seniority.
Differential tuition isn’t anything new: Graduate schools have always cost more than bachelor’s degrees, and front-loading grants—providing more aid to freshmen upfront, and then tapering it off to curb costs in case they drop out—is a common practice as well.
CHERI’s researchers found 143 public academic institutions are doing this, and expect that number to rise as they seek more ways to offset financial cutbacks.
According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Finaid.org and Fastweb.com, the argument in favour of differential tuition is that someone with a high earning major can afford more debt.
But let’s debunk this for a second: student debt is a $100 million problem in this country, and just because a student picks a presumably smarter major doesn’t mean he’ll a. review the terms of his loans carefully before signing off on them, thereby leaving him vulnerable to predatory lenders, or b. not struggle with payments due to unforeseen changes in the career sector, his health or marital status.
There’s also the bigger concern of whether costlier majors will encourage fewer low-income students to apply.
Kantrowitz says this will raise all sorts of issues since there’s little evidence proving that charging differential tuition yields any real benefit for public colleges and universities. Though many offer higher financial aid to offset the fees, the lack of a true revenue boost could signify yet another wedge being driven between the rich and the poor in America.
If you’re a student who’s applying for college, you’ll need to ask the right questions so you know what you’re getting into. Here, Kantrowitz offers a few:
Will my tuition costs remain consistent throughout the program?
This means finding out whether the differential tuition will be phased in or only affect incoming students, says Kantrowitz. The last thing you want is for your tuition to rise every year.
What are all the fees I’m expected to pay?
A college’s board letter typically lists several fees, such as room and board costs, but not all of them, says Kantrowitz. “You’ll want to look at the college’s website and/or catalogue to make sure that you know what you’re paying for.” Likewise, use FinAid’s calculator to see if there’s anything you’ve missed. Oftentimes differential tuition masks itself as a separate add-on fee.
Do you front-load your grants?
Knowing the answer will help you determine whether a college just looks cheap—or actually offers a viable deal, says Kantrowitz.