More universities charging more tuition for harder majors

9:27 AM, Apr 25, 2012   |    comments
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By Alicia McCarty, USA TODAY

Having a hard major is getting more expensive.

A growing number of public universities are charging higher tuition for math, science and business programs, which they argue cost more to teach - and can earn grads higher-paying jobs.

More than 140 public universities now use "differential tuition" plans, up 19% since 2006, according to research from Cornell's Higher Education Research Institute. That number is increasing as states cut higher-education spending and schools try to pay for expensive technical programs.

"It's been a lifesaver," said Donde Plowman, College of Business Administration dean at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which charges business and engineering majors $50 more a credit. "We can be excited for the future."

The money at Nebraska paid to create a career center, renovate a student lounge and hire an additional academic adviser. The college is also hiring new faculty.

Some worry that higher tuition will put off low-income students.

"The fear in all of this is will it lead to people being rationed out of classes?" said Ronald Ehrenberg, the Cornell researcher behind the tuition study.

Last month South Dakota's Board of Regents voted to bring back differential tuition for the first time in 15 years. Students at the state's research universities - South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology - will pay $5 more per credit than they would at the other state schools.

In Florida, if Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill approved by the Legislature, certain universities will get to charge tuition at their own rates rather than what's mandated by the state.

"The key is we want to have highly ranked universities ... you're going to have to have a way to fund" them, Florida State University President Eric Barron said. "Would you decide not to follow what you're most interested in if it cost $500 more?"


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