Editorial: Tuition cap legislation opens door for loopholes

Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, recently introduced Missouri House Bill 614, which, if passed, will freeze tuition for students who are already enrolled in state universities for up to five years, despite any future tuition increases. Essentially, a student enrolled at MU or any other state university will pay tuition at the same rate as their first year. Sounds nice, right? Not so much.

Proponents of HB 614 say that it will discourage students from postponing the completion of their degrees by keeping tuition low and constant. It also promises current students a fixed tuition before tuition hikes and allows prospective students to have a stronger financial plan, as they have a better idea of what they’ll be paying.

For all these reasons, we were in favor of this legislation – at first. Upon further consideration, several questions emerged about the long-term effects such measures on students and higher education institutions alike.

Our first question was this: If current students have frozen tuition, does that mean future students will be paying drastically higher tuition? In the face of a pressing budget crisis like the one MU currently faces, immediate alleviation can only come by immediately raising the cost of education.

If the cost were not spread out over all students, only incoming students would bear the weight of filling the budget gap needs. Also, HB 614 excludes out-of-state students, which would offer another enrollment demographic on which to dump all the cost.

Then we realized that MU, just as any university, is still a business. In the face of a budget deficit, legislation curtailing MU’s financial flexibility will not eliminate the problem. The university would easily find other ways to cover their costs.

It’s happened before. As deficits increased and tuition remained stagnant in recent years, MU found other ways to distribute the costs. Degree programs were cut, and fees were raised. For example, next year, fees for the College of Business will rise 48.7 percent.

School of Journalism fees will rise 22.5 percent, School of Health Professions will increase 18.6 percent and College of Engineering fees will rise 11.7 percent. All other course fees at MU will rise 6.5 percent. These increases don’t come as good news for students, even despite tuition freezes. When the university can raise them at a whim each year to cover their costs, tuition freezes become obsolete.

Clearly, despite holding tuition for individual students, the bills still have to be paid, and it might as well come in the form of tuition. Universities in California did what they had to do a few years back to keep their doors open, hiking tuition rates to fill funding gaps, despite student riots and protests. At the end of the day, someone has to pay the bill.

So, as nice as this proposal may sound, the measure is unrealistic — universities are still free and able to find other ways to cover their debts that take money from students’ pockets.

If the intentions behind HB 614 weren’t solely rooted in political pandering, we appreciate them, even though the bill ultimately solves nothing. However, changing the name of the cost doesn’t make it go away. Politicians may brag about supporting tuition freezes, but did they think that students wouldn’t notice when massive “fees” are added to their bills? We’re in college, but we aren’t as stupid as lawmakers think we are

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