Providing access to a high-quality, affordable college education, as Towson University does, is more complicated than you might think.
Ask any Baltimore-area CEO — especially those in the fields of accounting and health care — to define their major cost drivers. They will tell you salaries and the cost of technology to support business operations. How, then, are our institutions expected to draw the best from the private sector to teach the next generation of business leaders, computer scientists and health professionals?
The cost of educating students in nursing, computer science and business programs is significantly higher than the cost to educate students in other programs. Such costs include the need for up-to-date laboratories, managing shortages of faculty in key specialties, deployment of clinical placements and tech support in the classroom. With the high-demand for nursing education to address the state’s shortage, universities must continue to attract and hire more in-demand clinical nursing faculty to meet these needs.
[ The trouble with Towson’s tiered tuition - a tiny tutorial | COMMENTARY ]
How has Towson University responded to the challenge of meeting this demand, despite the cost, while maintaining its affordable access? By developing a tuition differential program for junior and senior majors in business, computer science and nursing — three of the most high-cost, in-demand academic programs the university offers, and those that lead to high-demand careers where Maryland’s workforce shortages are greatest. Most importantly, Towson University’s plan holds harmless students in these majors with the greatest financial need.
Towson University’s tuition differential isolates the higher cost of junior and senior level courses of in-demand programs where high-touch instruction with highly-skilled faculty is critical to maintain academic quality. Without a tuition differential program in place, an English or education major, for example, is potentially subsidizing the cost of a program in which they aren’t enrolled.
At the same time, students in these programs will be given greater opportunity to receive financial aid. Tuition differential is included in the student’s “Expected Family Contribution,” which determines every student’s aid package. A significant portion of the tuition differential revenue will be set aside exclusively for financial aid.
[ Students look out for each other at Towson University ]
Towson University’s national peers and other University System of Maryland institutions have deployed tuition differential programs with success. For example, data from the University of Maryland, College Park, shows that this approach does not disadvantage any groups of students. Furthermore, Towson University has the second highest graduation rate in the university system and is one of the only universities in the nation where students demonstrating financial need, through Pell grant eligibility, graduate and achieve academic success inclusively.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents also approved the plan, and they have made it a priority to focus on college affordability, particularly the needs of low-income, first-generation college students. The regents have set a high bar for institutions that seek to establish tuition differential programs, and the institution must provide evidence of both the financial need for the program and the plan to mitigate the impact on high-need students.
[ Towson University launches women’s leadership program for Baltimore County students ]
Only three university system institutions — including Towson University — have received such approval. In the case of Towson University, the regents are both satisfied with the need for such a program and confident in the steps the institution plans to take to implement the program and assist students with financial need. The regents will receive future reports on the progress and success of this program.
In the last five years, enrollment in the Towson University nursing program alone has grown by 45%. The university is now the provider of more than 1 out of every 4 health professionals to Maryland’s workforce. The university is meeting a growing demand and we anticipate no impact with the implementation of tuition differential.
With this program in place, Towson University can continue to be a workforce driver for our state, and our diverse, high-achieving student population will continue to have access to the rigorous academic programming they have come to expect from our university.
Kim Schatzel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Towson University and Jay A. Perman ( email@example.com) is chancellor of the University System of Maryland.