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Published: Saturday, 12/22/2001

Squeezing tuition inflators

Michigan's Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor next year, has singled out inflated college tuition fees as a potential campaign target, and he may get some sympathy from parents of Michigan college students.

The problem starts with the fact that the state's 15 public universities increased their tuition and fees an average of 11 per cent this year to offset a state subsidy that was increased only 1.5 per cent. Central Michigan's 28 per cent increase - amounting to $500 - was, Mr. Posthumus said, the “straw that broke the camel's back.”

Such an increase was not politically shrewd, and it certainly seems unwarranted. The other tuition and fees percentage increases announced by other schools so far have been in a far more reasonable range.

Whether Mr. Posthumus' proposed remedy is sound can be debated. He wants a cap of 5 per cent or the annual inflation rate, whichever is less. As the recession bites more deeply into state budget-makers' freedom of discretion, it is higher education's ox that is gored. The inevitable result is to foreclose an opportunity for college for many young people.

Still, one wonders how Central Michigan University could impose such a drastic increase in tuition in just one year.

Higher education and medical costs in recent years have seen costs rise much more rapidly than those of the economy as a whole. One could pose a number of reasons why this is so, but good answers, based on solid evidence, are lacking. Perhaps an academic economist could take another crack at it.

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