Melissa Miller: Every major should be the same price

At a time when colleges and universities are looking to cut costs, some states – like my home state of Florida – have been considering how they could implement a tuition freeze for the public college system.

The whole purpose of the freeze is to encourage students to major in science, technology, engineering or math fields by offering financial incentives.

Under this policy, students attending community colleges who enroll in STEM-related majors would receive tuition breaks just because of their concentrations.

Assuming Florida does not increase its education budget, this could mean that funding for humanities students would be diverted to guarantee that all STEM students have lower tuition. Put simply, it would be cheaper for students to major in engineering than it would be for them to major in history.

I understand the desire legislators and educators have to encourage more students to engage with the sciences, but it shouldn’t come at a cost for those students who choose to major in other areas. Making a STEM degree less expensive sends a powerful message: Only the wealthy deserve to study the humanities.

In the past few years, many colleges and universities, including GW, have been trying to attract more students to the sciences, due in large part to the high demand for graduates in STEM fields.

The Hatchet reported that the number of students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science increased from 528 in 2006 to 648 in 2010, but many did not stay there long. About 28 percent of SEAS students who matriculated in 2010 transferred to another college within GW.

Retaining science and engineering students isn’t a problem limited to GW. It’s something that universities across the country must confront.

One of the reasons that universities struggle to attract students to their STEM programs is because the courses are so demanding, according to a New York Times article from Nov. 4, 2011. The long hours of work and probability of lowering one’s GPA are enough to drive many interested students away.

Most students are already aware of the financial benefits of a STEM degree. On average, students who major in math and science make more money immediately upon graduation than other majors. Engineers and computer science majors have starting salaries of about $60,000, while students majoring in the humanities and social sciences start at an average of $37,000, according to a September 2012 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Instead of a tuition freeze, the onus should be on professors to entice students by finding innovative ways to make their STEM courses more appealing.

It is troubling that this tuition freeze proposal would leave those students who are passionate about subjects outside of math and science with higher tuition bills than some of their peers.

This policy blatantly puts those students who major in disciplines other than the sciences at a disadvantage. It’s a laudable goal for any university to try and attract more STEM students, but it shouldn’t come at a cost to other departments. One major should not be cheaper than another.

Of course, universities must encourage highly qualified students to enroll in these subjects. But if lawmakers and administrators are set on popularizing the STEM field, they have to find a way to do it that won’t harm other students and disciplines in the process.

Melissa Miller, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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