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By Amanda Fox-Rouch
October 11, 2012
Caption : So many aspects of college life are already unpredictable enough. Shouldn’t tuition costs be excluded from that list?     


Unpredictability has often been viewed as part and parcel of many college students’ plans to pay for school. Schools are increasingly choosing to combat this unpredictability factor by offering fixed rate tuition plans to incoming students.

Several universities have responded to this by offering a fixed rate tuition plan. The fixed rate guarantees a flat tuition rate to students when they enter a given school, which ensures that their tuition fees will remain the same throughout their entire time in attendance

Although some schools provide calculators with which students may estimate their cost of attendance for four years, the tuition rate for the first year of attendance alone is often the only predictable. After year one, tuition hikes are often expected to inflate college costs.

Tuition fees are subject to increase at any time and are often imposed at the whim of a board of trustees, unlike financing a car or mortgage a house, which are financial obligations that often require relatively predictable payments over time.

Fears of rising tuition are not completely ungrounded. Tuition rates have increased by an average of eight percent during the past year.

According to a CampusGrotto study, in 2007 only one school—George Washington University—had a total cost including tuition, housing, and other fees that exceeded $50,000. In 2011, by contrast, 19 universities had fees totaling more than $55,000, indicating wildly fluctuating costs within the college market.

Fixing tuition ultimately deprives universities of their power to initiate tuition hikes that may compromise students’ abilities to continue their schooling.

Those colleges that currently offer fixed tuition may have been spurred by President Obama’s announcement earlier this year of a plan that would reward colleges with federal funds if they actively work to minimize tuition costs.

Fixed-rate plans may not do much to significantly impact the cost of attending college, as many schools that provide a fixed tuition rate have raised the tuition for subsequent classes at a higher than average rate. In addition, the fixed rate only applies to tuition; schools that offer a fixed tuition plan can still raise other costs such as housing and technology fees.

In addition, guaranteed fixed-rate tuition is difficult to impose in public universities due to the state regulations that the schools must adhere to.

Trustee boards at private universities, however, have a bit more leeway—and thus more of an obligation—to make their schools more affordable.

Despite the setbacks, the fixed rate tuition plan is certainly a step in the right direction of driving down the unpredictable costs of receiving a higher education. It may, in fact, be the only solution for students hesitant to apply to certain colleges that have increased their tuition within the past few years.

And, to be sure, those troubled by America’s collective $1 trillion in student loan debt warmly welcome any and all plans to proactively drive down tuition costs.

So many aspects of college life are already unpredictable enough. Shouldn’t tuition costs be excluded from that list? Increased support for fixed-rate college tuition plans would inevitably drive down tuition costs for many and thus encourage low-income students to apply to schools when they would otherwise be deterred from doing so due to the threat of unpredictable and wildly fluctuating tuition.

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