At some universities, such as the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, how much your undergraduate tuition costs depends to a certain extent on your major, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
The U of I charges a “base” tuition of $12,036 per year, and then a student majoring in advertising pays about $800 more. Students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts are each charged $1,600 more than the base price and those in the College of Business see a surcharge of $5,000 annually.
Although the differential tuition has eliminated the need to charge students fees based on the classes they take—courses with just books would have no additional charges, whereas big lab courses that use lots of equipment, such as in agriculture, would cost students extra on a per-course basis—and thus made it easier for students to figure out how much they would have to pay, the differential tuition may be steering some lower-income students away from certain majors that could be more lucrative for them.
A study of differential tuition in Texas reached that conclusion. “Price increases were particularly large for institutions with the highest initial costs and for programs with a high earnings premium,” wrote Jeongeun Kim, an assistant professor of educational design and innovation at Arizona State, and Kevin M Stange, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Their study was published in 2016 in The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.
Glen R Nelson, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and the co-authors of his forthcoming book (Gregory C Wolniak, a clinical associate professor of higher education at New York University, and Casey E George, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Louisville), write in their book that “students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds are more sensitive to increases in college costs, and less responsive to financial aid, such that tuition increases have a more negative influence on their college enrollment and attendance decisions.”