Ohio’s next state budget may let public colleges and universities raise tuition only if they promise entering freshmen that their tuition won’t go up over their four years.
The idea, which is in a version of the budget in the state House, is a good one. Ohio University already does something similar. Under the “Ohio Guarantee,” each entering class’ tuition and fees are set from the start. If the institution raises tuition, that means the next year’s incoming freshmen pay more throughout their tenure, but students who complete their degree on schedule never see their own tuition go up. Even meal plans are nailed down, along with the cost of housing (although there’s no guarantee dorm rooms will be available for all four years).
That protection means students and their families can make financial plans without worrying that tuition will turn out to be more than they expect — or can afford — at least assuming future General Assemblies have the decency not to alter the deal on people who are relying on it.
Meanwhile, the legislature should make sure the lock-in is as comprehensive as Ohio University’s guarantee. Excluding room and board would defeat the purpose, since these costs can be more than half the total cost of attending.
Besides stabilizing expenses for students and families, stabilizing tuition may encourage administrators to think of their institutions’ budgets as less flexible. That may lead them to be more careful about expenses, always a good thing.
It’s tempting to suggest making the lock-in mandatory instead of letting each college choose between that and a two-year tuition freeze. But it may not be the best idea for every college, and making it optional — but the only way to raise tuition at all right now — gives universities both an incentive to adopt it and the flexibility to decline. It may also mean that future General Assemblies can compare the graduation rates of schools that adopt the plan and those that don’t. (Ohio University implemented its guarantee too recently for it to be reflected in its four-year graduation rate yet.)
Letting students plan for their tuition costs without worrying about increases is a good idea. The General Assembly should enact it.
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