Last week, the University of Illinois promised to freeze tuition for new, in-state undergraduates during the next academic year, joining the ranks of several other large universities that have done the same.
Other schools, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Cincinnati, Missouri State University, and Ohio State University have announced static price tags for incoming students in recent years.
Purdue University, one of the first to focus on affordability under the leadership of former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, is entering its sixth straight year of tuition freezes for both in-state and out-of-state residents.
These colleges are seeking to combat the fact that tuition charges are rising three times faster than inflation. On average, the cost of tuition at a public institution increases by 3.4 percent each year, compared with 2.4 percent at private colleges, according to the College Board.
While some in higher education promise static price tags as a temporary band-aid fix, few institutions are actually implementing strategic, long-term plans to lower costs.
Moreover, the untold story of rising hidden fees may counterbalance any advertised tuition freezes and leave students feeling nickel-and-dimed.
Fees at colleges and universities nationwide are increasing even faster than tuition, allowing administrators to claim lower tuition when, in reality, they are charging more elsewhere.
According to a study by Robert Kelchen of Seton Hall University, fees have risen 95 percent at public four-year colleges and 61 percent at private colleges since 2000.
The typical student’s bill may display fees for student activities, technology, building maintenance, athletics, libraries, workout facilities, housing, and even graduation — some of which are not able to be covered by financial aid packages earmarked for tuition.
College and university enrollment has continued its decline through 2016 and 2017, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. More than four in 10 private colleges and nearly three in 10 public colleges missed their target numbers for enrollment and tuition revenue in 2016.
Going forward, colleges and universities will need to take a hard look at reducing costs, not merely promising tuition freezes while raising the cost of fees and other items.
Kate Hardiman is pursuing a master's in education from Notre Dame University and teaches English and religion at a high school in Chicago.