Public colleges shouldn’t charge tuition based on majors

BERKELEY, Calif. – If you’re a business major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, or an engineering undergrad at University of Nebraska or a journalism student at Arizona State University, your tuition is higher than the rest of your peers. Several public universities have begun charging undergraduate students higher fees just based on their choice of major. University officials say that as public instiutions, the schools face rising costs while working on tight, insufficient state budgets. Sound familiar?

While UC Berkeley does not practice this policy, it’s not too difficult to understand the motives that led to administrators installing such fees, and thus not too difficult to see that it could happen on our campus. Faculty in certain fields demand higher salaries, and in order for public schools to remain competitive with private schools, they must attract brilliant professors with brilliant paychecks. In addition, officials argue that to effectively prepare students, some departments such as engineering must purchase expensive, high-tech equipment that other majors do without.

Of course, for a public university to achieve high academic standards and remain competitive against well-funded private schools, it needs money. However, to differentiate tuition based on major is a dangerous and wrong step for public universities to take. It suggests that university officials place more value on some majors than others. Students who do pursue a more costly degree will less likely take courses outside their discipline, in order to get their money’s worth.

One of the most appalling flaws of such a policy is that it discourages low-income students from pursuing certain majors simply based on costs. A public university has an obligation to provide a high-caliber education accessible to all, and the varying tuition costs go against the mission of a public university. Public schools need a way to figure out how to raise money, but this should not have to be the answer.