Columns » Bob McCord

College costs


When I went to the University of Arkansas in 1947, the tuition was $56 a semester. In 1990, the price had gone to $1,563, and now the plan is to charge $2,057 starting in September, an 8 percent rise, the biggest in seven years. Of course, tuition is only a part of the cost of going to the state's finest university. Every student has to pay fees -- library, student activity, media, technology, bus transit, health, etc. -- that amount to $750 per semester. Then there's the cost of dormitory rooms and meals, which roughly comes to $3,000 per semester. Add the expense of two semesters and you will see that it's going to cost something like $11,000 to send one of your kids to the University of Arkansas for one year and $44,000 for a bachelor's diploma. That's a lot of money for a state with a per capita income of $23,512, the lowest of every state except Mississippi. Of course, the prices at the 10 other four-year colleges and the 22 two-year colleges are less, but their tuition and fees will also be increased because the cost of education is going up, and the state simply doesn't have the money to give more to higher education. The legislature has just raised taxes under the order of the Supreme Court to improve the public schools. So higher education (and some other state services) will have their appropriations cut. That's too bad, of course, because Arkansas has fewer college graduates than any other state, and in today's high-tech world the states without educated young people will never grow and per capita income will never rise. So what can be done? I believe we ought to start a lottery and maybe install a few slot machines, dedicating all the income to education as states like Georgia have done, but the legislators are too spineless to consider it. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, other states are having money problems, too, and they seem to be interested in tradeoffs: The state would give less money to the colleges and give more money to the students, allowing them to choose the college they wanted, public or private. In return, the state colleges would be relieved of operating under state regulations. Colorado and Virginia colleges seem to favor this idea, but I think it would not be good for Arkansas. South Carolina's governor, Mark Sanford, a Republican, wants their 33 public colleges to become private colleges and get out from state regulations. So far none has taken up the governor's offer. Washington's state legislators have passed a supplemental budget that allows private colleges to compete with state colleges for state funds for students majoring in high-demand courses. Other states are thinking of limiting enrollment or closing colleges. Of course, Arkansas needs larger enrollments, but closing some colleges would be a good idea, even though it would be hard to persuade legislators to do it. However, it could happen if colleges start tricks like the University of Central Arkansas did when it gave John Smith, a college administrator and professor, a one-year paid leave in 2004. It turns out that Jones has decided to use the leave to run for the legislature. Smith is paid $158,000 a year. The Echo, UCA's student newspaper, called it "ridiculous." * * * The arguments about Richard Clarke and his book last week showed us that we are in for seven months of really tough campaigning before electing the next president. Something ought to be done to shorten these campaigns, but you rarely hear any of the candidates, ad agencies, TV and radio stations or newspaper publishers saying that. The political parties and members of Congress occasionally talk about shortening the process, but nothing ever comes of it. One reason is that not many people complain about it. And that's because a lot of Americans don't pay much attention to presidential campaigns anyway, according to a study just finished by the Center of the Study of the American South in Chapel Hill, N.C. One out of four Americans say they never watch television news about political campaigns. One out of three never read newspapers to learn what plans the candidates have for running the country. Many of the people who don't bother about keeping up with what the candidates say don't vote at all, or they automatically vote for the candidate that looks good, comes from their area, belongs to the same party they do, or is endorsed by a friend, an organization or a church they belong to. Some evangelical religious groups endorse presidential candidates. And the March 15 edition of Arkansas Business tells us that a study by Penn State University has found that Arkansas has the nation's largest concentration of evangelical Christians -- Southern Baptists, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Cumberland Presbyterian, etc. Gwen Moritz, the editor who wrote the story, said that 665,000 of Arkansas' 2.6 million people are Southern Baptists. Whether their preachers actually endorse a candidate, many church members will vote for George Bush because they know that he is against abortion, in favor of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and other things that really have nothing to do with the economy or the safety of our country.

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