A closer look at this year’s tuition hike
Tuition has been steadily going up, and this year is no different. In a letter to parents last week, Provost Holden Thorp said that tuition will be increasing for the 2016-17 academic year by $1,650. He further noted that “as with last year, when the percentage increase was the university’s lowest in 47 years, the percentage increase remains at 3.5 percent.” While tuition hikes are nothing new, we at Student Life feel that this year’s increase warrants some special attention, specifically because of the way this year’s increase has been presented.
The provost is correct that the percentage increase, 3.5 percent is the same as last year, but the actual dollar amount has increased by $50, from a $1,600 increase for the 2015-16 academic year to a $1,650 increase for the upcoming year. Essentially, the University can continue to claim that tuition increases are holding steady at the 47-year low of 3.5 percent, while continuing to increase the actual dollar amount.
Thorp’s claim that the percentage increase has gone down in recent years holds up, but again, the dollar amounts tell another story. The 2014-15 increase was 3.6 percent, down from 3.8 percent in 2013. But between 2012 and 2014, the yearly tuition increase also went up by $50. While increases due to inflation are to be expected, these exceed the current 0.7 percent inflation rate. Even with a downward trending percentage, it seems, students are losing out.
It’s understandable if tuition rates may be going up to pay for important expenses like professors’ and employees’ salaries, but it’s disingenuous to present a tuition hike as if it’s alleviating part of the strain, when in fact it isn’t. Couple that with a lack of explanation as to where exactly the money from the tuition increase is going, and the result is mistrust between student and institution.
It all boils down to the simple fact that percentages look good on paper, but dollars are what affect people. Fifty dollars, after all, is still a concern for those already on a tight budget. That’s a week’s worth of meals for some. For those working a job to help pay their way through college, $1,650 could be their entire semester’s paycheck.
Financial aid packages and percentage-based scholarships will likely be adjusted for the new rate, but fixed scholarships, like the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholarship, will not. Over the course of four years, a Nemerov scholar can be awarded up to $12,000. But over the same four years, tuition will have increased by at least $6,400. Every tuition increase makes the scholarship mean just a bit less.
Room and board rates are climbing too. Chancellor Wrighton noted at last November’s tuition forum that he wants to ensure that “all of our admitted students can afford to be here.” Despite this claim, the cost of many of the historically more affordable housing options for upperclassmen has increased; a 2-bedroom apartment in Greenway, which last year cost $10,630, will cost $11,938 when fall rolls around (a 12.3 percent increase). The cost for more expensive options—such as the apartments in Village East—has also increased, but only slightly: a 3-4 bedroom that previously cost $13,994 will cost $426 more in the fall (a 3 percent increase). Additionally, the cost of living in the Lofts—previously the second most expensive housing option—will decrease, suggesting that students may be more likely to shell out an extra few thousand dollars for the University’s newest apartments as the price gap closes. The price increase for low-cost options like Greenway doesn’t exactly seem warranted, seeing as no upgrades in accommodations have been announced. The bottom line is that low-cost housing options are disappearing rapidly.
If the University wants to decrease the stress tuition hikes and housing increases put on students, it could start by explaining where exactly the extra money is going. In last year’s letter to parents, Thorp did acknowledge that “tuition has increased significantly in absolute dollars,” but not much has been done to actually explain the increase. Further, as fixed scholarships become less impactful, the University should work to find more effective scholarship solutions. As Thorp wrote in his email to students, we place confidence in our university. Perhaps it’s time to see some of that confidence repaid.