Call me crazy, but I support the tuition increase we face next year. Thats not because I think its a good idea. I just think its the only plan that makes sense.
Before I write another word, heres what you need to know about college finances in the Waterbury household. Carol and I have two UI undergraduates we are putting through college. Libby likes clothes, Dan likes food, and both seem to like academics and Iowa City nightlife in roughly equal measure. Any way you figure, it takes about $15,000 to keep either in school each year, including summers at home. One year we squeaked by on less, but that was before Libby got on a first-name basis with Iowa Citys ever-vigilant meter readers. Now we just budget parking tickets as part of the cost of keeping Iowa City flush with cash.
If your student gets by on less, run him for office; we all need good government. If your student spends more, shes probably paying out-of-state tuition, a double hit we homegrown Hawkeyes tend to forget. But whatever your family pays to house, feed, clothe, entertain, medicate, transport, supply, and yes, educate a UI student, one thing is certain: its a lot of money. Its even more when you remember we all pay taxes before we can even think of paying our smiling registrar. So why, you might ask, would anyone want to pay even more tuition next year?
Thats easy. I dont want to pay more. I want to pay less. But as a citizen and parent, I need to pay more. Wants are for children. Needs are for adults. And financial reality says we need to raise tuition to keep The University of Iowa strong.
The Iowa legislature cannot appropriate money it does not have. University administrators cannot make cuts that are big enough fast enough to cover the shortfall between revenue and expense. And even if they could, administrators would be doing the University and the state of Iowa a grave disservice by cutting their way to budget balance regardless of consequence.
A degree from The University of Iowa should represent four or more years of rigorous study in challenging courses taught by skilled professors. In granting it, both the University and the state attest to the quality of education a degree represents. Thats why it is quality, not quantity, that should concern us.
Dollars, jobs, programs, and expenses are quantities. They can be put on spreadsheets. They can be counted, controlled, and governed. But talent, imagination, passion, and inspiration are qualities. They are hard to find, easy to lose, and all but impossible to govern. The University of Iowa already has many people who have these qualities. The trick is to keep them. Competitive pay is a good start.
Paying higher tuition next year is like paying UI tuition every year: its an investment in quality. Quality stands on its own, regardless of numbers. But quantity without quality is never a bargain. Its simply another commodity.
Jim and Carol Waterbury are parents of UI senior Libby and UI freshman Dan. Theyre eager for their children to graduate, get good jobs, and support them in a long retirement. However, neither has yet quit working.