Should I opt for another major because it is cheaper? Many people say taking a degree in engineering or business will provide a high and stable income in the near future. The college-bound and college students all over the world will struggle with this question. In making crucial decisions such as choosing a major, students should be wary.
Differential tuition — the concept of raising tuition rates for select majors such as engineering and nursing — has recently entered the popular pubic education discourse with a new study released this summer showing the consequences of higher tuition rates in select competitive majors.
The already difficult decision of choosing a major is compounded by other struggles students must deal with. The beginning of this year, I was approached by a student while I was in the University of Washington (UW) hub area reading. She asked me if I would like to sign a petition for the UW United Students Against Sweatshop (USAS) to support worker’s and student’s rights. First of all, it never occurred to me that tuition is a student’s right. Being from Singapore, my education was publicly funded, and not something I had to fight for. That same day, I stepped into a meeting room with a group of students who were taking jobs while studying at the same time and were worried whether they should drop out a quarter or two to earn enough income before heading back to school.
It dawned on me that any increase to their tuition could result in them dropping out of school altogether, and that if differential tuition were implemented, I am not sure if they would still be sitting in the same room as me.
Whether to drop out or not based on the affordability of a major is one difficult choice students should not have to make.
The essence of differential tuition is to offset the higher cost off student tuition that is funded with financial aid. This also has the consequence of preventing them from choosing a course they want to pursue. According to the new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) released last month, the enrollment decisions of female and minority students are more likely to be influenced negatively by higher tuition rates for programs. Also, the study found no evidence that additional financial aid negates the impact of higher rates for select programs. Kevin M. Stange, the NBER researcher who led the study, says his findings for engineering degrees suggest that colleges may not gain much additional money from raising rates in expensive fields, since the institutions could end up with smaller numbers of students.
The logic that certain majors would ultimately earn more than other majors is subjective at best.
Some majors do have additional costs such as utilizing labs and other materials. This is understandable, but beyond the additional lab fee, students should not have to pay extra just because they decided to major in a more popular course. There are some students who reach their fourth year to realize that they want to pursue something else – is that their fault then for not being decisive at an age where many are still exploring their options?
Overall, I think that differential tuition on many different levels is unfair to many students. From my interactions, many American students are already taking on loads of responsibilities as they step into the university setting. With the rise of student loans and debts, any additional burden on them might deter them from making the right choice for themselves, which will be costlier in the long run.