PRICES ARE SIGNALS. Twenty years of starvation rations and incompetent administration take their toll on Southern Illinois University.

In an effort to combat low enrollment, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale announced on Jan. 12, it will let students from Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky pay the same tuition rates as in-state students.

Vice Provost Earl Seaver said he wasn’t sure if NIU would adopt a similar program. Seaver, however, said any university that offers a program like this must be careful.

“As universities try to attract out-of-state students, you don’t want to take out-of-state students and not have enough room for in-state students,” Seaver said. “Sometimes those universities have been criticized because in-state students can’t get a seat.”

The Associated Press reported Jan. 12 that SIU’s enrollment numbers have been declining for 20 years, with a top administrator being fired for that reason in 2006, and that the discount is the latest “in a bidding war” over prospective students.

The Allen-Bradley Company used to defend its prices with the slogan "An 'extra discount' is an indication of a product's worth." (OK, so their management included convicted "phases of the moon" price fixers, but the slogan is accurate under textbook competitive conditions).

With smaller cohorts of high school graduates on the way, the recession is likely to reinforce the temptation some university administrations will have to loosen admission standards so as to keep the seats full. That strategy is probably a mistake. It does no good to admit people to degree programs that they will not complete. The excess demand is still for the perceived prestige credentials, pokazhuka though they might be.

I do wish our vice-provost would name names, rather than using the "those universities have been criticized formulation." Criticized by whom? By legislators who don't pony up the money? Wouldn't that be precisely the opportunity to throw the legislators' phony assertions about overpaid and underworked faculty back in their faces, rather than continue the game in which the departments close sections and recommend that the students complain to the deans, and the deans (more frequently, their assistant-tos) hear the complaints and recommend that the students and their parents complain to the legislators.

I also wish he'd show some understanding of economics.

There are drawbacks however. Universities like SIU-Carbondale will not get state support for the out-of-state students. Seaver said that in-state students get lower tuition rates because their parents are paying taxes which fund higher education.

“Someone from another state pays more tuition to make up for that subsidy,” Seaver said. The university would have to make up the difference the state would have covered.

With the legislature attempting to micromanage 100% of the university budgets while providing a diminishing fraction of those budgets, isn't this a good time to say no?

Furthermore, because universities are accountant's nightmares of common and joint costs, additional students paying whatever higher out-of-state rate Southern or Northern quote are probably more than making up that difference. It's the additional-passenger-on-the-train-that's running argument, with DuSable Hall deputizing for the Amcoach.

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