What a dean says about St. Cloud's differential tuition system

It's about convergence

After writing a post  earlier this month that asked questions about how St. Cloud State University (among others) should handle the charging of different tuition rates among various programs, I recently got this reply from Mark Springer, interim dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts & School of the Arts.

St. Cloud State had added mass communication to nursing and art — programs that already charged such “differential tuition.”

I’d asked whether the right programs were being charged, and whether the journalism program was really one that required extra charges for technology (compared to equipment-heavy sciences, for example).

How much was market demand a factor? And should all students within a department pay higher tuition when one of the divisions is more prone to use such technology?

I had no real stance on the issue, but was just asking some preliminary questions, so I put the call out for some more opinions.

Here is Springer’s response, which I’ve edited for length.

The most significant element to note is that the differential tuition at St. Cloud State in mass communications is not intended to fund the dollars needed to update our current television studio. Those costs are large and program-based tuition cannot and will not shoulder that expense. The program-based tuition investment is part of a larger strategic initiative within the mass communications department to move toward a “converged” curriculum.

It is a multi-faceted experience in which several kinds and formats of media are “converged” in one place. Often this is a website where one encounters audio, video, advertising, photography and journalism simultaneously. With the added impact of hand-held devices, pads and smart phones, it becomes a very technology rich, multi-media experience.

At SCSU, the three programs being charged program-based tuition—nursing, art, and mass communications (two of which are in the College of Liberal Arts)—are all high demand programs—programs that often turn away interested students due to limited class sizes, technical and technology resources, and faculty and staff. With high demand comes additional investment in classroom resources, technology, and equipment that university, college, and department budgets are not always able to meet.

Program-based tuition is a way to address that programmatic need. As you can see, it is not applied widely and must go through rigorous proposal and planning steps for consideration. This process includes consultation with and support from the students directly affected.

Departments and programs seek this increase. Departments are keenly focused on improving and enhancing the student experience in their programs, and they are required to put forward a proposal and budget analysis that includes plans for investment.

While many programs are indeed high cost, not all are in high demand. Those that are in high demand, however, are not always afforded the opportunity to invest as deeply as they may need to remain professionally relevant and responsive to student, professional, or market needs. Program-based tuition is one way to provide such programs opportunities to thrive.

It is important to note that program-based tuition at SCSU does not replace department and program funding, thus allowing the program-based tuition dollars to be invested in the programmatic areas outlined in the program-based tuition proposal.

Second, the dollars are not used for faculty, staff, or other personnel; they are invested into the programmatic needs of the department, and in all cases, are focused on the curricular, experiential, and learning outcomes for the students.

Are those costs being born by grants and donations?

While grants and donations can be used for offsetting programmatic costs of high demand programs, including scholarships and one-time investments, they are often not well suited for long-term planning and ongoing programmatic costs related to the delivery of courses.

And at what level should universities charge more? For example, mass comm students have reportedly agreed to pay $25 per credit more in exchange for an upgrade of tech facilities…

At SCSU, the rate and application of program-based tuition is tied to the development of department or program needs related to their proposals, and it is an important part of that process.

And is the mass comm department really the one that requires the most critical high-tech upgrades?

In short, yes. To remain relevant and at the forefront, SCSU’s mass communications program will need to teach new professionals to work, build fluency, create content, and thrive in this environment. The investments needed to make a converged experience reality are large, and part of the program-based tuition proposal was to initiate this transformation.

Television and video content is prominent in that equation, but the investments made over the long-term will touch each and every student. The expectation of these programmatic changes will be that all mass communications students, regardless of major track, will become adept users of the technologies needed in their profession.

The students were consulted in our process. They affirmed their understanding and support for this planning, becoming investors in their future.