During today’s presentation of his proposed fiscal year 2019 budget before the legislative Joint Budget Committee, Governor Hutchinson announced that he is asking for an in-state tuition freeze at all state four-year institutions next year. He is also asking two-year colleges to limit their in-state tuition increases to the consumer price index (CPI), a measure of inflation which went up around 2.2 percent over the last year.
Hutchinson is making the request in a letter to college and university presidents and chancellors. This is not part of his proposed budget, and tuition is not something that the legislature directly controls. While they allot state funding for the institutions’ budgets, determining tuition is up to each institution’s board. The governor is simply using the bully pulpit here. “I believe that a request by the governor will increase the leadership that [higher education] leadership has to control the costs and to improve efficiency, and to make college more affordable,” he told the committee.
“Over the last ten years, the tuition increases have ranged from a low of 3 percent to a high of 6.2 percent, so it’s time to give our students a break,” Hutchinson said. “It is time to help make college more affordable.”
Hutchinson said that his proposal was not meant to be a criticism of the state’s higher education institutions. “Our four-year institutions and all of our higher education have been very good partners with us,” he said. “They recognize and have the same goal that we have of affordability for the students.”
Hutchinson made the announcement along with noting that his proposed budget includes $10 million to implement the new higher education productivity funding model approved during the 2017 legislative session. The new model, pushed by Hutchinson, transforms the state’s method of funding colleges and universities from a formula based largely on student enrollment to one based on student performance metrics (such as completion of degrees).
The ask here to the colleges is based on improving “efficiency,” not on significant increases in state funding to keep up with rising costs and help them keep tuition in check (the $12 million increase in funding this year — inclusive of that $10 million to support the new funding model — represents around a 1.6 percent increase from this year’s budget, which was flat-funded from the previous year). At least according to the previous funding formula used by the state, higher education has been vastly underfunded by the legislature for years.
Here’s the letter Hutchinson sent to higher-education leadership: