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Year in Review: The Cost Game In Higher Education

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Graduates at Indiana University’s winter commencement ceremonies at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

The name of the game in Indiana’s higher education in 2011? Cost of attendance.

Cuts to Indiana’s higher education budget led to tuition hikes at many of Indiana’s public universities in the spring. Some state legislators balked after these hikes exceeded a recommended tuition cap, and more funding cuts weren’t out of the question.

Times Square photo: Brian Harkin/Getty Images

But by the end of fall, the schools and lawmakers reached what seems at year’s-end to be a détente:

Most Indiana colleges aren’t rolling back tuition increases (Indiana State excepted), but Indiana University and Ball State University came out with alternative plans to decrease students’ costs through cuts to summer tuition and incentives to finish degrees on-time.

Purdue University, which also hiked overall cost of attendance above the Commission for Higher education’s recommended tuition cap, did not follow suit.

Cap Trade-Off

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers praised Ball State’s and Indiana University’s plans.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers prepares for the December meeting.

Speaking in October about IU’s summer tuition decrease, Lubbers said the cuts acknowledged “affordability is a key issue for many Hoosier students and finds a way to drive more cost savings to Hoosier students. It acknowledges that for many of them, they want and need the option to graduate in a more timely period.”

Both IU’s and Ball State’s respective plans were billed as incentives, aimed at helping the university meet specific state goals for their academic performance.

At the press conference where he announced the cuts, StateImpact asked IU president Michael McRobbie why officials decided to apply the tuition cuts only to summer courses, potentially saving students a total of $11 million:

StateImpact question: “Isn’t incentivizing students to take classes that would then save them money very different from just saving them money? Why don’t you just cut the cost out of year round courses as opposed to saying, ‘Well, if you take this, we’ll incentivize you to take this with these cuts, but only then will it save you money’?”


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How Performance Funding Works In Indiana

McRobbie response: “What our goal is here is to incentivize students to take classes where we have capacity, and right now, we have capacity over summer. This is a problem that universities have wrestled with for years — how to utilize those very valuable facilities that they have and to align the academic calendar better with the needs of the 21st century. So that’s what we’re doing, we’re taking advantage of the capacity we have over summer to hopefully attract many more students to all of our campuses.”

Will students take advantage of the incentives? It’s difficult to judge, since most don’t begin until 2012.

IUPUI sophomore Ricky Rojas told StateImpact in October a 25 percent cut in tuition might attract him to summer school, but he’s not sure he’d take a full load of classes.

For him, tuition is not the biggest cost of attending school. Living expenses, Rojas says, take up much more of his budget — maybe $6,000 per semester, while his tuition and fees total roughly $4,500 per semester.

Pay for Performance

The Commission for Higher Education tweaked the state’s performance funding formula for colleges in November, aiming to incentivize universities to graduate more students on-time.

Currently, 5 percent of the state’s $1.2 billion higher education budget — roughly $61 million — is distributed based on performance metrics.

After the Commission’s approval of the new funding formula in early December, that figure will increase to 6 percent in the first year of the next budget cycle (an estimated $73 million based on current funding levels), and 7 percent a year later.

Compared with previous years, where the state based 1 or 2 percent of its funding formula on performance measures, “we’re starting to talk about real money now,” Lubbers said on December 1.

How the state weights the measures by which it will judge university performance, however, remains up in the air. Ball State president Jo Ann Gora told StateImpact in December how the state prioritizes the performance metrics will have huge implications.

“The devil’s in the details,” says Gora, who says performance funding has pushed dollars off four-year campuses and onto two-year campuses. “You might say that about the whole formula — much will depend on how things are measured and what the weightings are.”

Article source: http://stateimpact.npr.org/indiana/2011/12/27/year-in-review-the-cost-game-in-higher-education/

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