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Should a lucrative degree cost more?

Some universities charge extra if you major in business or engineering.

By Karen Datko Oct 22, 2009 12:30PM

You know this airplane scenario: Passengers compare notes on how much they spent for seats that you'd think would cost the same. It ticks you off when you find out you've paid the most, doesn't it?


Transfer that discussion to the Student Union Building, except now everyone is comparing tuition. That's right. Some universities -- including those in the University of California system -- are thinking about charging higher tuition to students who major in more lucrative fields -- specifically engineering and business.

Many schools are already doing it, probably more than you think. Engineering and business are often targeted, but some students in nursing, architecture and music (music??) also pay more. Meanwhile, college costs for all students, including those in California, continue to climb overall as states cut spending and endowments shrink.


"Miss M" at M is for Money, who is an engineer in real life, thinks charging some undergraduate students more than others is a very bad idea. She wrote that "if this policy existed back when I was in college, there would be one less engineer in the world today."


According to the Los Angeles Times, engineering and business students would pay an additional $900 a year under the California proposal, which will be voted on by regents next month.  California officials "point out that nearly half of all U.S. public universities have taken similar steps, with many joining the trend recently because state funding for higher education has declined during the recession," the LA Times says.


Miss M explains the thinking behind this proposal: Engineering and business professors cost more to recruit and retain than their lowly colleagues in the English or political science departments, and engineering and business students can expect to earn so much more after they graduate.

Miss M also breaks down what she doesn't like about this policy change, including:

  • We need more engineers, so why discourage people from pursuing those fields by charging higher tuition?
  • Would universities end up marketing those majors and let other, more obscure fields of study wither away?
  • What kind of precedent does this set? Will the tuition for other degrees be rated on a scale of usefulness or employment potential?

"I see this plan as shortsighted," Miss M said. "Sure, it helps with revenue in the immediate future. But at what price to our technological skills and to the value our universities provide as repositories of knowledge?"


Good questions. What do you think?


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