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The Rising Cost of College Tuition Pt 3: What is the State Doing?

The cost of college increases nearly every year. Of course, inflation plays a key role, but so does the overall cost of a quality education, from competitive salaries...
unfortunately higher education is always hit first
The cost of college increases nearly every year. Of course, inflation plays a key role, but so does the overall cost of a quality education, from competitive salaries to maintenance work. This has been the case for years, but what's different now is the amount students are having to pay, and it's driving student loan debt.

"Keeping tuition low and affordable is one of the most important things that we do and we talk about it constantly," said Chancellor David Gearhart at the University of Arkansas, who says he's very aware of the problem, quickly pointing to a number of things the university is doing to help keep tuition prices down, from cost reduction plans to multi-million dollar scholarship campaigns. But he says schools can only do so much...

"I think the biggest thing, really, for tuition nationwide is the decline in state support.," adds Gearhart. "There's been a precipitous decline in state funding for the last 30-35 years."

Gearhart remembers a time when 75 percent, if not more, of a student's tuition and fees were covered by the state. Now it's less than 50 percent, but why?

"In the state of Arkansas, 90 cents of every dollar goes to three things: education -- K-12, our prisons and Medicaid," explains Democratic State Representative James McLean. "So, there's not a lot of money that goes towards higher education like we all want."

As chairman of Arkansas's House Education Committee, McLean is all too familiar with this issue but says the state is strapped financially and that there's not much he or anyone else at the state level can do.

"With the tight budgets we have in Arkansas -- with revenue stabilization, which essentially says you cannot spend more than you take in -- unfortunately higher education is always hit first," said McLean.

It's actually better now, too, than it was, at least according to McLean's Republican counterpart, State Senator Johnny Key, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

"Over the last couple of sessions, we have tried to find ways to put new money into higher education," said Key. "It hasn't been enough to match the need, but there for several years we didn't add any new money."

Anything helps, according to Gearhart, but he says consistency must play a bigger role.

"Last year, the state gave us a small percentage increase and we kept tuition at a reduced level," explains Gearhart. "We have said that if the state can give us two to three-percent every year -- maybe even just inflation, which is a little under two-percent -- then we can keep our costs at a relative amount."

Again, though, that consistency is easier said than done, says McLean, and with the rising delinquency rates among student loans, McLean says true reform has to begin with Washington. But what, exactly -- if anything -- is being done right now on Capitol Hill? Well, more than you might think, according to Republican North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.

"The legislation aims to keep college within reach for students education."


The fourth and final part of our series on the Rising Cost of College Tuition focuses on Washington D.C. and an old law with a new opportunity to perhaps change the face of college loans and student debt forever.

That's tomorrow night on KNWA news at 10.

We asked you what you thought about this subject on our Facebook page, and a lot of you believe the University of Arkansas's athletic department should do more.

What does Chancellor Gearhart think about that? Click HERE to find out.

If you missed part one or two, you can view those HERE and HERE.

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