An alternative to tuition increases

The Oregon Board of Higher Education approved a change that allows state universities to charge students based on the number of credits they take. Schools can now raise fees for students taking heavy course loads.

Opponents of the higher fees pointed to the negative effect on lower-income students. Their concern about access to higher education is laudable, but the problem is not simply overall funding for higher education. Students at state universities benefit from taxpayer-subsidized tuition, regardless of their financial need. This policy reduces the amount of money available to target those who most need assistance.

A better approach, outlined in the Cascade Policy Institute report Power to the Student, would connect funding directly to college students, not to state institutions. Funds would be awarded based on financial need and students would choose where to use the aid.

Governor Kulongoski recently outlined a proposal that could be the beginning of a similar policy. He told the Oregon legislature, “I want to empower students to make their own choices. I don’t want them to just be recipients of a great education — I want them to be consumers.” Kulongoski continued, “Competition is healthy-and will force our public universities to spend less time looking inward, and more time looking out for their customers.”

The governor has it spot-on. Student-based funding would improve schools and offer students a better education.

Nick Weller is an education policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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