Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

The problem with tuition hikes

As many students are already aware, Washington University has recently announced a tuition hike of $1,600 for the 2014-15 school year. Tuition has increased annually at the school for decades, and while this year’s increase is the lowest percentage-wise since the 1950s, it is still unacceptably high.

Tuition at private and public universities has skyrocketed since the 1970s, far outpacing inflation. What is the cause of such increases? Opinions differ, but generally named culprits at Wash. U. include rising salaries for staff, landscaping and new buildings for the campus, and furthering of the University’s status. These reasons are all a part of a much larger issue within the higher education community: the cold war between top-tier universities. Schools want the best faculty they can get, so they increase salary and benefits to entice prestigious academics to teach there. They want a good reputation and thus spend money on more impressive buildings and facilities.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It is only natural for a school to want to be the very best it can be. Problems arise when students, who provide the bulk of funds for such projects, are given the cold shoulder. The fact of the matter is that a school as prestigious as Washington University will always have a wealth of applicants from which to choose and thus doesn’t have to make tuition a high priority. No matter how much it raises the price, people will pay.

And this creates a very dangerous mindset. A school’s first duty is to its students, and by financially crippling them before they have even begun the race, the University is harming its future. Of course, it has been argued that increasing the reputation of the school will increase the future prospects for its students. While this may be true in a limited sense, the average student here cares very little for the next big building or beautification project. He cares far more about the prospects of paying off his debt.

In addition to putting more strain on the backs of working families, raising tuition endangers diversity on campus. At a college that already caters to a certain clientele of wealthy white families, further loss of diversity will only exacerbate the issues faced by minority students here every day. The University claims that diversity is a priority, yet it is hard to take the administration seriously when it continues to consider income as a factor in its selection process. This implies that more raises are on the way and only students who can afford them will be allowed in.

Finally, even if all of the above arguments can be discarded, the University should at least be open about what they are spending our money on. Very little about where tuition fees go is revealed, so students are left handing over a small fortune for a very uncertain payoff. It would be a gesture of good faith for the University to inform the students of where the money was going, and it would help to reassure us that we are contributing the majority of our sum to our own education. We’ve paid our dues. It’s time for Wash. U. to do the same.

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878