Tuition hikes threaten increased commitment to diversity
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama reinforced the White House’s commitment to reducing inequality in access to higher education, in part by giving colleges incentives to offer better value. Meanwhile, many Washington University students and prospective students are still grappling with the announcement of yet another tuition increase for the 2014-15 school year. Tuition hikes may be a necessary evil, but the rate at which the University’s tuition is rising is alarming and unsustainable.
Next school year, tuition will rise from $44,100 to $45,700, an increase of 3.6 percent. Although this is the lowest percent increase in decades—indeed, things could be much worse—it is the same dollar amount increase as last year and $50 more than the increase we saw in 2012. In fact, tuition has been increasing since at least 2004. Tuition hikes have also far exceeded inflation rates for the past several years (inflation is currently at 1.5 percent), so rising overall costs clearly aren’t the only culprit. Obviously, the University wants to continue to grow and improve as an institution, but does it need to do so at such a high cost to students?
The University is notoriously opaque about where tuition money goes, so it’s hard to even say whether the tuition increases are justified. One can assume that much of it goes toward the salaries of professors and other University employees, who are obviously worthy recipients. But plenty of it also goes toward things like construction and school beautification, which seem to be a bit out of control on Washington University’s campus. And given that Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s massive “Leading Together” campaign is already well on its way to reaching its $2.2 billion fundraising goal, it seems especially excessive that tuition should continue to rise at such a high rate.
One of the most problematic implications of rising tuition, though, is its potential impact on socioeconomic diversity. Although current students who receive financial aid should see their aid packages adjusted accordingly, prospective students might balk at the school’s high sticker price. This is especially concerning in light of the University’s recent rhetoric about bringing more socioeconomic diversity to campus. While the administration does not plan to switch to a need-blind admissions policy anytime soon, it continues to stress its commitment to recruiting low-income students and keeping college affordable. This trend of rising tuition calls into question whether the University is taking that commitment seriously.
Rising college tuition is a national trend, but that doesn’t make the University’s tuition hikes any more excusable. It’s important for universities—particularly elite private universities—to realize that high tuition costs will eventually do them more harm than good. If this alarming trend continues, it won’t be long before prospective students start to think that attending a name-brand school like Wash. U. isn’t a good investment.