Colleges Hike Tuition But Offer Reductions

LIKE an annual ritual, tuition at American universities and colleges is on the rise again. In Massachusetts, Wheaton College in Norton will increase tuition 3 percent next year to $24,550. Tuition will be raised by 5 percent to $22,860 next fall at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

According to the United States Department of Education, average tuition at a four-year private university last year was $18,892, up 6 percent from 1992. Tuition has increased 103 percent since 1983, when it averaged $9,308.

But college-bound students are not without financial options.

Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., recently announced that beginning next fall, selected students would be able to earn their bachelor's degrees in three years. Three other schools in the US - Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa; Albertus Magnus in New Haven, Conn.; and Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. - launched similar programs last year.

And this week, Clark University in Worcester, Mass., joined a growing number of institutions looking for ways to make education more affordable and boost application numbers. The university, which has about 800 graduate and 2,000 undergraduate students, said it would enable students pursuing a four-year bachelor's degree to get a fifth year tuition-free to earn a master's degree.

The university has had five-year bachelor's/master's degree programs in place for 20 years, and most of them are not heavily enrolled, says Roger Kasperson, Clark University provost. He says by offering a free year, up to 50 more students are expected to enroll in each of the programs. ``To provide the additional incremental resources did not look like a real financial burden to us,'' he says.

At Clark, one year of tuition, including room and board, costs $22,000.

``We've estimated that about 40 to 50 percent of our students will be eligible for this program,'' Mr. Kasperson says. Students will be required to maintain a B-plus average and be enrolled full time, he says. Once the program is under way, Kasperson says he expects there to be about 100 additional students in each graduating class.

The tuition-free fifth year will be offered to students pursuing master's degrees in the sciences, environmental studies, education, business, and health administration. ``We've tried to select areas where a master's degree is appropriate to provide professional entree for our students,'' Kasperson says. ``It's not [appropriate] in every discipline.''

And although he thinks it is better not to compress the undergraduate experience into three years (``It's desirable for many students to stay longer''), Kasperson argues that with careful curriculum planning and students who are willing to begin work on the advanced degree at the end of their junior year, a one-year master's is feasible.

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