Raising the Cost of Affordability: Guaranteed Tuition Programs and the Economic Value of Certainty
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The issues of affordability and access to higher education are widespread among college campuses and throughout the national political debate. As institutions attempt to combat rising tuition, many schools have implemented guaranteed, or fixed rate, tuition programs (GTP). These programs serve as a promise to students, pledging their tuition will not rise throughout their degree path, and participating institutions assert that these programs are successful at providing an affordable education. I investigated these claims by analyzing what the factors are to implement a guaranteed program, and the impact of these programs on outcome variables such as completion. Through available institution and student information, I compiled a list of the 140 public and private institutions that have implemented a guaranteed program. With this base list, I presented details and criteria of each unique program through data available on college websites and surveying enrollment and finance offices of participating universities. I relied on university data derived from the College Scorecard Report, including but not limited to enrollment rates, retention rates, state appropriation, student identifiers, and net price. Using a variation on a time series regression, and data spanning a period of eleven years, I analyzed patterns leading up to and following the start of these programs. I found there were some patterns indicating small effects of GTPs and other factors both before and after the implementation of a program. However, while some effects were statistically significant, the effects were very small in magnitude. None of the quantified effects analyzed in the empirical model were found to have a dramatic enough impact to credit the GTPs I reviewed as causing the size of effects the educational institutions generally intended, as represented in the communications of institutions to students and their families.