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Should Colleges Charge More for Some Majors Than Others? Pros and Cons

Mar 11, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

In 2012, Governor Rick Scott of Florida appointed a task force to determine how to improve the performance and cost-effectiveness of higher education in his state. This past fall, the task force released its recommendations—which included charging more for some majors than others at Florida state-run universities. Florida isn’t the only state considering this measure. In 2009, California considered taking similar steps. And this measure is very attractive to some cash-strapped public universities.

Florida is considering charging lower tuition for students pursuing fields that need new graduates—such as technology, math, and engineering management. To pay for these tuition breaks, students in other, less in-demand fields will be expected to pay more. So is this a
good idea—or not? Here’s a look at the pros and cons.

Benefits of Charging More for Some Majors

Schools could potentially attract students to certain majors. The point of the Florida initiative is to attract more students to programs that lead to careers that are in demand in the state. And that could be good for the state’s economy as a whole—as well as for students, who are more likely to graduate with a more lucrative and in-demand degree.

See Also: Online Degrees in Economics

Schools could cover costs for expensive majors. Some schools already charge more for majors that are more expensive to run—such as science and engineering majors with large lab components. This way, the students directly benefiting from these programs would have more of a role in financing them—without putting more of a burden on those who don’t use the programs.

Students with less in-demand degrees could graduate with less debt. This isn’t how the Florida proposal would work—in fact, students with less lucrative degrees would pay more under its plan. But if the plan were reversed, colleges could charge more for more lucrative degrees—on the assumption that those graduates would be better able to pay. And students with less lucrative degrees wouldn’t be burdened with exorbitant loans.

See Also: Online Engineering Degrees

Drawbacks of Charging Different Tuition Rates for Different Majors

Students with less lucrative majors could pay more. Under Florida’s plan, students with in-demand degrees would get to pay less. But those paying the bill for that generosity would be the students least able to handle higher tuition: those with less lucrative degrees. This could make life harder for students who don’t want or have the aptitude for a degree in a more favored subject.

No matter who benefits, the measures would be seen as unfair. No matter who gets the better end of the deal, there will always be a group of students and professors who feels that the measure is unfair. It may drive highly qualified students in non-favored majors away from colleges embracing that measure to begin with—and the non-favored departments would suffer as a result. If that happened, funding for more generous tuition policies for certain majors could dry up. And because of the unfairness issue, schools that embrace this measure may face negative publicity—further driving away talented students in non-favored majors.

Cutting costs isn’t always easy, for either traditional or accredited online colleges—and measures like this have the potential to increase revenue and reduce costs. However, they can also have either positive or negative results. If the measures are taken for the clear benefit of students, it’s possible it may be easier to sell them to the public in general. However, there will always be a group of students who are paying more—and their charges of unfairness are not necessarily unfounded.


Balboa Park San Diego Over a year ago

This is not fair that Colleges Charge More for Some Majors Than Others... should charge in an affordable amount

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