Indiscriminate tuition cuts would not benefit low-income students

Alexander Chase

With the UT System considering a tuition increase, some students are upset that an extra $150 per year will be coming out of their pockets. While tuition increases have made public education significantly less affordable for students over the past three decades, blindly calling for tuition to fall is not the answer. It is key for students to focus on unequal educational opportunity, not just how much they pay.

Complaints about rising tuition are not wholly unfounded. Tuition costs have quadrupled in the past 35 years, far outpacing inflation. This tuition issue is not one about students who can comfortably afford college right now, but one about those for whom attendance is cost-prohibitive. Working part-time no longer covers the cost of attendance and student loans debt is exploding upward. Others are being priced out of higher education entirely.

Tuition prices alone are not to blame for the exclusion of economically disadvantaged students at prestigious public and private universities. Parental wealth and education level both strongly correlate with SAT scores, college enrollment and degree completion.

Even worse, the highest achieving low-income students were just as likely to complete a bachelor’s degree as some below-average high-income students. Income inequality is undoubtedly holding back many of the nation’s most talented students. So, when students call for tuition to fall, they must prioritize equality of opportunity, not cost of attendance.

In 2011, Texas governor Rick Perry called for the creation of a $10,000 college degree through the expansion of online classes. While this would cuts costs, the approach ignores many of the needs that low-income students have.

Students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to lack the academic preparedness that is key to success, according to a Columbia Teacher’s College study, which makes online classes more difficult for them than for students from higher-income families. Furthermore, those students benefit more from face-to-face interactions with professors. 

Given Texas’ educational issues, these should be real concerns. Texas’ educational system disadvantages low-income students through its regressive funding system, which gives more money per student to wealthier districts. 

Texas’ educational systems need to change in how they treat low-income students. There are ways for tuition cuts to be part of a solution, but they are not the solution. In this sense, students calling for tuition cuts, such as those who participated in the Million Student March, are not misguided in their goals. However, they do need to be wary of the way that their policy wishes, including free tuition for all students, would actually affect economically disadvantaged people.

Fixing this is not simple, but requires students to focus their complaints on the roots of inequality rather than a specific problem that stems from it. While rising tuition is certainly problematic for low-income students, students must call for solutions that will not heap greater problems upon those affected most.

Chase is a Plan II and economics junior from Royse City. Follow him on Twitter @alexwchase.