Effects of the increase of SUNY undergraduate tuition in the 2003--2004 academic year on undergraduate students at the University at Buffalo
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Traditional economic models that focus on tuition and enrollment behavior predict decreases in aggregate enrollment when tuition increases. However, the State University of New York at Buffalo experienced record aggregate enrollments after raising undergraduate tuition 28% ($950), thus highlighting the need for a new conceptual framework that captures what other enrollment behaviors might occur (beyond the decision to enroll) in the face of a tuition increase. The purpose of this study was to discover the effects of the 28% ($950) increase in undergraduate tuition at the State University of New York at Buffalo that occurred during the 2003-2004 academic year. Specifically, this study had two parts. Part one examined whether the increase in tuition caused subsequent changes in number of commuting students, number of transfers and dropouts, yield of students who paid admission deposit but failed to enroll, number of registered credit hours per student, and certain types and amounts of financial aid per student, as compared to the previous two years without a tuition increase. Data was gathered from a variety of institutional databases, and results revealed that the tuition increase did not seem to cause major changes in most of the target enrollment behaviors for the overall student body. However, significant effects were found when breaking down the data on specific groups of students. When analyzing the same students over time, two significant effects shown to be directly related to the tuition increase were decreases in net registered credit hours carried per student, and the increase in students registered as part-time. In addition, lower-income students (1) did not transfer or dropout more than their upper-income counterparts, and (2) took out less loan aid than students with higher incomes. Part two of the study involved administration of a survey developed by the author, which intended to (1) capture student perceptions about the expense of UB, (2) estimate their concern for affording college, (3) gain their rating of impact of the tuition increase, and (4) collect information on how students pay for tuition and expenses. Results indicated that most students: (1) were concerned about their ability to pay for college, (2) felt UB was cheaper than other colleges, (3) used job earnings and family support to help with college expenses, and (4) were awarded more TAP awards and loans than any other types of financial aid. Results from both part one and two of this study illustrate the effects a tuition increase can have or not have on various enrollment behaviors that go beyond a student's decision to enroll, and highlight the need for alternative approaches in examining price and enrollment behaviors of students. It appears that UB has found itself in the desirable position of being able to increase prices while increasing demand and quality of the student body, but future tuition increases should be weighed carefully to maintain this balance.