Editorial: On the Cost of Education
Last Wednesday, March 8, marked the day “tuition ran out,” as in, the whopping $53,800 comprehensive fee that Colby charges its students is only three-quarters of the real price of education at our elite liberal arts institution, our city on a hill. The “Tuition Runs Out” campaign raises awareness around campus of this deficit and states the price tag is actually $71,131 per student. That’s insane. That’s too expensive. There is something inherently wrong with an education that costs $71,131 and yet, because other elite institutions cost the same amount, private colleges and universities across the country can keep their bills steep…and keep raising the tuition year after year after year.
But that’s not all that’s mind-blowing in this equation. According to U.S. Census data from 2009, the median household income is $49,777. As the cost of higher education skyrockets, families cannot afford to send their children to school; the numbers do not add up. They simply equal debt. So if—and sometimes that feels like a big “if”—we get those highly coveted jobs that might help us chip away at our loans, what is going to happen 20 years down the road when we have children of our own? Where will we find the extra money to send them to college, especially at this rate? In 2000, Colby’s comprehensive fee was $32,750. By 2020, inflation rates aside, should we expect tuition to increase another $21,050 to reach an inconceivable $74,850 before “tuition runs out?”
From just last year, the tuition increased 3.48 percent, up $1,810 from the former $51,990 fee. Perhaps that’s more palatable broken down into semesters: only an additional $905 per four months on campus! It flies under the radar that many students do not spend January on campus, and yet there is no separate charge for JanPlan…unless it is to pay more for a special class. From 2011 to 2012, national inflation increased 3.2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. This, remarkably, is the closest that the national inflation rate and tuition increase have been in the past four years; since the Class of 2012 arrived on campus, the College has increased the amount families pay by at least $1,679 each year. The College announced this year’s increase in tuition via an official announcement e-mail from President William Adams nearly a year ago on March 31, 2011, explaining that Colby is just following the trend; “The percent increase and new total charges place Colby at about the middle of the group of peer colleges and universities that have thus far announced their fees for the coming academic year.” The e-mail message points out that Colby continued hiring during the recession, despite a restrained budget. The last paragraph was, perhaps, an attempt to be comforting: “While I’m aware that an increase in the comprehensive fee is never a welcome event, I believe Colby’s board and administration have exercised conscientious stewardship of the resources entrusted to us—by you and by donors whose gifts, over generations, have helped to defray part of the cost of a Colby education for every current student,” he wrote. “The proof, I think, is in the transformational experience your students receive, whose benefits are for life.”
The Tuition Runs Out Day encourages students and community members to give to Colby because this is when “tuition ends and philanthropy begins.”
It seems to us like Colby is doing a pretty good job of closing the tuition gap without our help. Time to forge our own path, Colby, and make College affordable.