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Differentials: How Universities Charge Higher Prices For Certain Majors

Jan 12, 2015
Originally published on January 21, 2015 9:55 am


For the first time in two decades, the University of Illinois plans to hold basic tuition rates steady for the upcoming school term. But that proposal, adopted by the U. of I. budget committee on January 5, comes with a caveat.


Notice that the U. of I. specified that the rate will hold steady for “basic tuition”? That means that most students will take classes at the same cost as last year’s freshmen -- $12,036 at the U. of I.’s main campus in Urbana-Champaign. But students majoring in certain subjects will have to pay a differential, which can range from a few hundred dollars per year to more than $5,000.

University spokesman Tom Hardy says Illinois -- like many other colleges -- has been charging differentials for years.

“What they are is a reflection of the higher cost of providing certain kinds of degrees. Typically you see these in engineering, business administration, fine and applied arts, and a few other disciplines,” Hardy says. “The cost of recruiting and retaining high-level faculty, the kind of equipment and facilities that are required, make those degrees more costly to provide than would a general education program.”


A 2012 study done by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute found that 143 public colleges or universities used differentials. Some schools charge a differential for higher level courses; others charge a differential for certain subjects.


At its main campus, the University of Illinois charges in-state undergraduates differentials ranging from $780 (in journalism and advertising) to $5,004 for engineering, business administration and chemical science.A full list of differentials at the Urbana-Champaign campus is available here. At the Chicago campus, differentials range from an extra $1,000 per year for kinesiology to $4,166 per year for nursing. At the Springfield campus, differentials are charged for graduate degrees in public administration and computer science.

In the fall of 2015, differentials will increase only on the Chicago campus, in the areas of business administration, engineering, nursing, kinesiology and health information management.


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