Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cross-subsidization in the university 

Departments on our campus are trying to raise revenue, and one way is through differential program-based tuition.
SCSU's art department currently charges $20 per credit for non-general education courses as a part of program-based tuition, a program they started in spring 2007. It is in the process of increasing that number to $26 per credit starting fall 2009.

This cost is similar to the technology fee all students pay to use the open labs on campus, only it is used for specific departments to help pay for service materials. It replaces any course fees students previously had to pay to cover costs of materials needed for class, including computers.

David Sebberson, art department chair, is trying to get another computer lab for his department. "It's all about timing," he said. "The university hasn't figured out a good way to fund and support department based computers."

The open labs, funded by the technology fee are replaced every three years, while department materials get replaced whenever they can fit it in the budget. Program-based tuition has increased the art department's budget by $130,000.

With the extra $6 per a student, the second computer lab could be constructed and over the next few years, the software can be purchased as well as other new equipment.

With the status of the economy, one would think the extra costs with program-based tuition would turn people away from departments that use it, but Sebberson said the opposite has been true for those in art majors.

"Enrollment has continued to increase," he said, with the number of credits generated increasing by 1,000 from the 2006 school year to the 2007 school year.

The nursing science department started program-based tuition in spring 2007 as well, charging $25 per credit.

The mass communications department is following suit, currently in the process of shifting to program-based tuition planning $25 per credit, getting rid of the existing course fees.
We're told we can't do this because a student paying a higher tuition is going to have to get something extra. Because the art student takes home a painting or a clay ashtray you can nick him an extra $78 for your usual three-credit class. What about art appreciation courses? What do they take home? Because we don't give them software, our department is told it cannot collect to support software for teaching econometrics and forecasting.

Of course, the departments are trying to collect revenue without reflecting any of the cost. Those extra 1000 credits the art department teaches requires someone to teach them. Is that an extra faculty member? What did that person cost? Did those students make the classroom more crowded and reduce learning for those already there? How much did that cost? And what if demand for art went up -- how much would enrollment have risen in the absence of the fee?

I don't see differential tuition as a big problem; you can cure a lot of congestion in popular classes with it. I suspect this is in fact what we're seeing, at least with nursing and mass comm: two popular programs that are competitive to enter and from which departments are collecting rents. But universities produce students jointly across departments. The math department puts valuable skills into my economics majors. I'd like them to be subsidized. My principles classes put some logic and critical thinking skills into the person taking art appreciation, but I don't get the art department's money.