Recently, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank called for an increase in out-of-state tuition at UW. Blank has said the university is underselling its product to students who live outside of Wisconsin.
While I am not an economist like Blank, I think she has the evidence to back up her claim. In the 2013-’14 fiscal year, tuition for an out-of-state student attending UW is $26,652. Compare this tuition rate to other schools in the Big Ten: Pennsylvania State University charges out-of-state students $28,664, the Indiana University-Bloomington charges non-residents $32,350. Rounding out the top is the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where an out-of-state education will cost non-residents $40,392 in tuition and fees.
A college education is a marketable product and UW is charging out-of-state students far less than the market value of its product. In some cases, it could be argued that UW is actually offering a better product than other schools for a much cheaper price.
There is a reason why diamonds are more valuable than rubies and why silver is less valuable than gold. As a society, we construct the value of items and ideas. For example, I know that a painting by Pablo Picasso is valuable simply because it was painted by the famous artist. Even if I thought all his Cubism works looked like a child’s finger painting, I would still know that the art had great monetary value. The exact same thing can be said about a college degrees based on their rankings.
College rankings matter because the prestigiousness of a college degree is dependent upon the reputation of the university that conferred it. A degree from any Ivy League school is supposedly the best a person can attain because Ivy League schools are considered the most prominent colleges in the United States. So even if it is thought that Ivy League graduates are arrogant and pretentious, they still know they hold a valuable degree from a world renowned university.
UW is highly ranked high both nationally and internationally, yet the cost of an education here is considerably lower than that of lower ranked institutions. UW was ranked 41st in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Compare this with 75th ranked Indiana University -Bloomington, which charges nearly $6,000 more for out-of-state students than UW does. The University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, which tied UW in these rankings, charges $3,000 more for non-residents.
There is no reason why UW should not increase its tuition for out-of-state students, who are clearly willing to pay more for an education that is not nearly as reputable. To quote Blank, “I see no reason why we should sell our education to out-of-state students cheaper than schools that quite honestly aren’t as good as we are.”
Lastly, I must emphasize that UW, just like all other public universities, was created for residents of its home state. The UW System Board of Regents has a good reason to set the cap for non-residents at 25 percent of the incoming class. UW was created to educate people living in the state of Wisconsin, just like University of Iowa was created for Iowans and Michigan State was created for Michiganders.
Now, I am not arguing that we should charge out-of-state students more in order to further subsidize in-state students. Public institutions already receive billions in state tax dollars to limit tuition costs for in-state residents. However, I am arguing UW should put a price on its education that is both competitive with others schools in its market and reflective of the education it delivers.
Jared Mehre (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in political science, sociology and legal studies.