Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Theory of Tuition Freezes

Whenever I try to understand the behavior of politicians, I always use the self-interest motivation, and assume every action is taken to make the public believe they need the politician to protect them.

Consider tuition freezes.  The Oklahoma legislature sometimes allows OSU to change tuition as it likes, and sometimes forces OSU to keep tuition lower than it likes.  One could interpret this as government's attempt to help keep prices low, or....

Consider that the state government does want universities to be an impressive place, a cathedral of the modern age.  They want opulent landscape and impressive buildings, and of course, an imminent faculty.  They know this costs money, but they don't want to appear to be the ones spending it.

So what politicians do is force universities to keep tuition low for a number of years, giving the public the impression that if it wasn't for them, tuition would be higher (universities just circumvent the tuition freezes by adding on more fees, like the ridiculous assessment fee that takes dollars bills and flushes them down the tiolet).  To keep the university competitive in terms of buildings and faculty, they must be allowed to raise tuition at some point (fees are only an imperfect substitute for tuition).  But the politicians want it to be "the university" who raises tuition, not them, so the politicians publicly bestow the university with the power to govern itself.

Of course, the university has to raise tuition substantially because it has been constrained by the government for so long.  Then after the big tuition hikes, when no more hikes are really needed, politicians enter to save the day by taking the reins and imposes tuition freezes.

It must be fun to be a politician.

Blog Archive