Tuition skyrocketing: When is enough, enough?

States are struggling to balance their budgets, forcing many public law schools to raise tuition — some by as much as 26 percent.

Some schools, however, are trying to lighten the burden by not imposing the increases on second-year and third-year students.

Frank Wu, dean and chancellor of the University of California-Hastings Law School, says his school has gone from the state providing 80 percent of their annual budget to now only 15 percent. Much is similar to all public University of California schools.

At UC Hastings, every law student will pay about $6,600 more this year over last year, for a total of $39,085 for in-state residents and $50,310 for non-residents. And more mid-year increases could be imposed if state funding gets worse.

But when is enough, enough?

Wu says there used to be an understanding that states would provide a system of higher education and that states would subsidize low tuition.

But that “understanding” has fallen apart.

In the past, applying to your local state-funded law school and paying in-state tuition was often cheaper than going to a private law school. But that may not remain true in the future.

Some states are trying to hold expenses for in-state residents, while raising tuition for non-residents.

But most people are not surprised by the increases, as many states have, and continue to face, budget cutbacks.

But is it fair to lighten the burden by not imposing the increases on second-year and third-year students?

Patrice Schaus, associate dean of administration and finance at the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis, says yes.

The step-down in percentage increases for upperclassmen, she said, is because these students have committed themselves to the school. Minnesota is one of the schools that have set up tiers in tuition increases so that first years get hit harder than upper class students.

“It’s not that we have guaranteed students a tuition rate, but we have tried to hold down subsequent increases,” she said. “It’s less drastic doing stepped increases.”

Schools are doing what they need to do, but when does the “understanding” from the state return?  And, is help on the way?