Saturday, July 12, 2014

Comparing higher education tuition increases with K-12 public school foundation revenue

Just imagine if K-12 public schools could raise revenue the same as four year colleges and universities.

Yesterday, it was announced that West Michigan's Grand Valley State University was raising tuition by 2.9% (on top of the average 5.9% revenue increase provided earlier this spring by the state legislature and signed by Governor Snyder). The increase in tuition alone brings the annual tuition rate up to $10,752 per undergraduate student.

Thirteen years ago, my wife and I sent our son to our alma mater GVSU which that year had an annual (two semesters) tuition rate of $4,660. This of course doesn't include all the added fees, books, room-and-board, and other costs and by the time he graduated, tuition rates had already risen by 41%. Compared to that same year, the GVSU trustees just approved a rate for this fall that will be...wait for it, wait for it...131% higher than in 2001-02!

Now compare it to our K-12 public school district's foundation allowance, which one could argue is a similar funding source providing for core academic instruction and basic operations, although unlike postsecondary institutions like GVSU, public schools do not enjoy any control over how much this combined state and local funding will be each year. In 2001-02, the same year my son entered the hallowed halls of GVSU, our district received a foundation allowance of $6,666 (okay leave out the jokes about the end times, mark of the beast, etc). Following a severe per-pupil cut in the foundation allowance the year Governor Snyder came to office, despite the fact this key source of revenue already fails to keep up with the rate of inflation, our per-pupil revenue rate has now been set at $7,251 for this fall. That equates to a new level of per-pupil revenue that is merely 8.8% higher than thirteen years ago
Let me summarize.

GVSU, which is also benefiting to some degree by Governor Snyder's raid on the School Aid Fund that had been designed solely to support K-12 public education, has raised its annual tuition rate by 131%. At the same time, public schools like ours nearby have been expected to operate at a greater level of efficiency and provide a higher rate of college and career readiness while taking on more difficult curriculum standards and graduation requirements, working with a greater percentage of students who are struggling due to poverty, limited English proficiency, transiency, and a growing lack of parental support for learning, all while making due with an 8.8% increase in our foundation revenue.

To be fair, colleges and universities claim their revenues are not keeping up with costs. Oh, really? Try walking in the shoes of a K-12 public school administrator some time. That rationale doesn't seem to resonate with those folks in Lansing holding all the power and making all the decisions on school funding.

And then we wonder how to make sense of allegations that K-12 schools are not adequately preparing our charges for college?  At the same time, should we question if it make any difference if no one can afford to attend a four-year institution any longer?