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Trustee group to colleges: No more tuition hikes

An industry group representing trustees and alumni has published a pocket guide that may rub some college administrators the wrong way. It asserts that colleges should not lean on tuition increases to bail them out of tough times, but instead should find innovative ways to cut costs.

The booklet, "Cutting Costs: A Trustee's Guide to Tough Economic Times," is being sent to more than 10,000 trustees at 600 colleges by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

The guide suggests that tuition increases aren't a practical solution to the problem at hand -- tumbling endowments, dwindling donations and declining state appropriations.

Tuition has risen at more than three times the rate of inflation since 1978, although it has increased at a somewhat slower rate in the past two years. The increases reflect a dawning consensus among colleges that there is a limit to how much students will pay.

"It takes no courage or foresight to raise tuition," said Anne Neal, ACTA president, in a news release. "Now is the time for trustees to take a hard look at their institution's finances and identify some real cost-saving opportunities."

The guide encourages trustees to take a leadership role in steering their colleges away from big tuition hikes. It offers some specific suggestions, culled from colleges that have made successful cuts:

1. "Consider a requirement that some part of each undergraduate's credits toward graduation include a vetted and approved online course." Online education can yield big savings.

2. Reconsider capital projects. "Is this the time for an expensive new building, especially if funding will come out of the hides of students in the form of increased student fees?"

3. Trim administrative overhead. "Across the country, a growing share of 'educational and general expenses' are going to pay for layers of administration. Are you part of that trend?"

4. Consider partnerships with community colleges. "Community colleges excel at remediation and enhancing students' level of college readiness. They are able to do so effectively at much lower cost than four-year institutions..."

5. Reduce travel expenses. "It is not micromanagement for a board to review policies on travel. Do departments allow multiple attendees at the same conference? Under what circumstances? How many days a year do administrators spend off site at professional association conferences?"

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By Daniel deVise  |  August 3, 2010; 11:36 AM ET
Categories:  Administration , Finance , Students  | Tags: ACTA report, college trustees report, college tuition increases, higher education finance  
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