American public and private universities are raising their tuition fees for the coming year by as much as 25 per cent - more than 17 times the rate of inflation.
The increases inspired one member of Congress to press for a law requiring any university that increases its tuition by double the inflation rate or more to provide a written statement explaining why and to produce a plan for holding down costs. Rod R. Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois, said tuition fee increases should be limited to 5 per cent a year.
Already reeling from cuts in government support, and flush with applicants, universities said the proposals represented unfair government interference in their affairs.
"For the decade that I have been in Congress, I have heard people on all sides of the issue talk about making college affordable for all American families, with little result," said congressman Howard McKeon, chairman of the house of representatives subcommittee on higher education. "I will not wait any longer. Students are depending on us now."
Public university students in California will pay from 21 to 25 per cent more next year for their education, which, because of state budget cuts, will also feature larger class sizes and fewer courses to choose from.
Tuition fees at the University of Wisconsin will jump as much as 18 per cent, and at the University of Virginia by 11.2 per cent. Medical students at Virginia face a 20 per cent rise, while public universities in New York will increase their costs by 7 per cent.
The escalation in costs follows an average 10 per cent increase last year at four-year public universities, the biggest in a decade.
Private universities are also raising their rates at more than double the rate of inflation, which is running at about 1.5 per cent. But, because their tuition fee is much higher, the actual increase in dollars is often greater than at public universities. For example, while the University of Virginia will cost nearly $6,000 next year, Harvard University will cost nearly $38,000, including room and board, after a planned 5.5 per cent increase. The private University of Chicago will also cost nearly $38,000, up 5 per cent.
Enrolments have responded to the economic stagnation as more students see a degree as an advantage in an increasingly competitive jobs market.