ABSTRACT. Pay-What-You-Can-Afford (PWYCA) tuitions are a suggested way to offset declines in state appropriations to public higher education, while increasing access for low-income students. The idea is to set resident tuitions at non-resident rates, minus the state appropriation per resident, and then to use incremental tuition revenue to subsidize low-income residents. The concept mimics high tuition-high aid price discrimination approaches employed at private universities, effectively replacing private endowment income with state appropriations. PWYCA, as typically presented, ignores: i) how non-resident tuitions are determined; ii) the welfare effects of introducing distortions in relative demand patterns; and iii) the endogeneity of the state appropriations. Here, the tuition-setting rules associated with PWYCA are derived as optimal solutions to a welfare-maximizing model in which non-residents pay at least fully-allocated costs and the state appropriation is endogenous. Because demand-side inefficiencies are introduced, student welfare and the state appropriation both decline. Most importantly, because of endogenous declines in non-resident tuition revenue and the appropriation, there is no added revenue to allocate to low-income residents. University of Michigan data are used to illustrate quantitative implications of selecting high tuition-high aid structures. While the decline in welfare in this example is a modest 5%, the redistributions of value among residents, non-residents, and state taxpayers are substantial.
JEL codes: I22; I28

Keywords: pay-what-you-can-afford tuition; high tuition-high aid; non-resident full-cost tuition; appropriation to higher education; higher education finance; tuition efficiency

How to cite: Fethke, Gary (2018). “Offsets in State Appropriations Challenge ‘Pay-What-You-Can-Afford’ Tuition Policies at Public Universities,” Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management 6(2): 7–28.

Received 10 January 2018 • Received in revised form 18 June 2018
Accepted 19 June 2018 • Available online 10 July 2018


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