Should in-demand college degrees cost more to earn?

Mar 14, 2013

Should students earning in-demand degree pay more?

That's the idea behind behind differential tuition, which would allow colleges to raise the price of earning expensive, sought-after degrees like engineering and computer science.

Some local students are rallying against the idea and urging their schools not to boost tuition to match their majors' demand. 

But the schools say differential tuition could help offset deep cutbacks in state funding.

United Students Against Sweatshops, a pro-labor student group, organized a protest at the University of Washington on Wednesday. Several dozen protesters stormed the office of UW President Michael Young to tell him why they say differential tuition is unacceptable. 

But after what turned out to be a perfectly polite exchange with his assistant, the students adjourned to the rain-soaked quad for a short rally. Organizer Grace Flott said differential tuition would limit access to the pricier degrees.

“If you are from a low-income background, I would pick an English degree over engineering any day if cost were the decisive factor for me,” she said.

University spokesman Norm Arkans acknowledged the students' concerns, and added any new plan would have to fund generous financial aid. But he said this approach just may be one fair way to share the growing burden of higher education.

“Maybe the students who are choosing higher cost programs with the promise, potentially, of a higher payout when they’re done, should be [paying more of the cost],” he said.

But he says differential tuition is still just an idea; there are no plans to implement it anytime soon.

A bill to quash differential tuition, HB 1043, passed overwhelmingly in the state House, and awaits action in the Senate.