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MLIS Students Pay More Under New Tiered Tuition System
By Katy Shaw
January 7, 2003

MLIS students were unpleasantly surprised to find that, at the beginning of Autumn Quarter 2002, a new three-tiered tuition system was implemented for graduate students. The fact that tuition was going up was not in itself a surprise. Tuition is skyrocketing for higher education across the state, and students have come to expect this as an unfortunate side effect of the slowing economy. What raised a few eyebrows was the new classification system that divided all graduate students into three tiers-with students from the Information School in the most expensive category.

Masters students in Nursing now pay lower tuition than masters students in the Information School. Architecture and Urban Planning masters are paying higher tuition than Oceanography and Fishing masters. With the exception of the Pharmacy, Business, Law, Medicine and Dentistry departments, all graduate programs are now categorized into three tiers and tuition is priced accordingly.

One outcome of the new tier system is that MLIS students are now saddled with a seemingly disproportionate financial burden compared to their fellow masters students in other programs. Another unfortunate outcome of the new system is that poor and disadvantaged students may be discouraged from applying to the Information School and other third tier programs.

Mike Eisenberg, the Dean of the Information School, played a key role in helping to determine the School's tuition level. After he consulted with faculty in order to determine "what seemed reasonable in terms of what the school is," it became clear that "we belonged in that top tier of tuition," he said. "We don't want a second class Information School. We want first class all the way, and that costs money, and means everybody has to kind of pay their fair share."

Several factors influenced the Dean's decision, the main one being that "that's what it really costs us." Although the building fee varies slightly from tier to tier, the biggest difference between the tiers is the operating fee-which includes money for infrastructure, technology, computers, faculty and staff. Dean Eisenberg pointed out that "we have six people for student services…five years ago we had zero." Similarly, five years ago the iSchool had less than 10 faculty and minimal computer facilities. The Information School's impressive five-year renaissance has come with an expensive price tag.

Another factor that Dean Eisenberg took into consideration is that the top tier is "close and consistent with what we're going to charge for our…self-supporting programs." The distance MLIS and the MSIM programs, which are self-supporting programs offered through the Information School, both cost over $20,000 per degree. Because these programs are not supported by the state, their tuition is "closer to what programs [actually] cost than any other tuition," he says.

Dean Eisenberg acknowledged that tuition is partially influenced by expectations that Information School graduates will earn better-paying salaries than graduates from other departments. Although he downplayed this factor as being central to his decision, the Dean said that "some of our students do really well and there's an increase in the demand for our field. So it's a bit of what can students expect afterwards [financially]. But it's also what we want students to expect…I would love to see library grads getting…$50K to $60K [salaries] to start."

In deciding the appropriate tier for the Information School, Dean Eisenberg looked to the Engineering Program for comparison. "One of the reasons that we compare ourselves to engineering…is that our resource infrastructure is significant," he said. "We don't just need a classroom and a bunch of students-we need technology, we need the infrastructure." He felt that it was important to compare the Information School to a program that is growing and successful, following the adage that "you tie yourself to winners."

The cost of the UW MLIS program was also compared to other MLIS programs in the country. For a degree, "our tuition is below most of our peers," asserted the Dean. "It is not below North Carolina in-state tuition, but nobody is. But North Carolina, the state, put billions of dollars into their higher education system over the last 10 years."

In contrast, the state of Washington put comparatively little money into funding for higher education during the last decade. The state's budget crisis and its effect on higher education was the subject of a recent weeklong series of editorials that ran in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. According to one article, "other states were just plain smarter about investing in education during the boom of the '90s…Washington's 2-percent increase in funding per student between 1992 and 2000 placed it behind 39 other states."

The fact that the state of Washington is in the bottom quartile of the country right now in support of higher education worries Dean Eisenberg. Although he is seeking additional funding from the state in order to increase enrollment in the Informatics Program, he admits that "right now it's not so much fighting for new money as it is fighting to hang on to the money we already have."

For the most part, though, the Dean feels positive about what the Information School has accomplished over the last five years and the future of the school. "We are the buzz of the library and information field right now," he said, "because we're pushing the limits of the information school model… I feel really good about where we are and what we're doing."

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