Nearly everyone on campus is excited with the prospect of replacing Sodexo with a better food service provider. But few are talking about the very real possibility that along with a perpetually rising tuition, we are facing potential rises in the cost of our meal plans. We are all to blame in the rise of college costs – the government, the students, our parents, college administrations, and last, but certainly not least, the U.S. News and World Report “Best Colleges” rankings.
The fact of the matter is, this is not a recent problem; college costs have been rising since the early 1980’s at more than twice the rate of inflation, according to Steve Odland at Forbes Magazine. A college education is supposed to be the great equalizer in America. It doesn’t matter if your black or white, rich or poor – higher education is supposed to guarantee a better life.
But with college tuition across the country rising rapidly, who will be left out? It won’t be the son of a Connecticut doctor. It will be the minorities and the poor, as education attainment becomes more unattainable, and the wealth gap grows so wide that it makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the earth.
While universities can boast about meeting financial aid and sympathizing with students, they are at the heart of the problem. According to Forbes, administrative expenses “have risen 61%” since 1985 while instruction expenses rose nearly 40%. In short, professors and administrators are getting paid more.
Furthermore, merit aid in the form of full and half tuition scholarships has been a tool in attracting bright students that couldn’t afford Dartmouth to attend schools like Denison, but when it becomes clear that these scholarships are costly and that fundraising can’t even begin to put a dent in the deficit, what is the solution? Raise tuition and let the scholarships stagnate, leaving students who once bragged about the “perfect” financial aid package to exhaust work study programs and take out more loans.
Students and their families don’t help the situation either. We want – no, we demand – Olympic-sized swimming pools, upscale living arrangements, and gourmet dining. Trouble is, all of these things cost money. And of course, if a school doesn’t have these things, they recieve less applications, have to accept more students, and the lack of “selectivity” pushes them down the U.S. News and World Report ranking. When the magazine produced its first “Best Colleges” list in the 1980’s their intent was pure: to help people navigate the college process. Now, its become convoluted and downright satanic, as schools are disturbingly willing to spare no expense to crack the top 50, or 30, or 10.
Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic points out that we have the money – and we’re already spending it – to make college free. Public univiersities charged students a combined $60 billion last school year, and the government already spends nearly $80 billion on higher education (excluding loans) in the form of tax breaks and Pell Grants. But in the U.S., free public university will never happen. Its too European, and too socialist for the rugged individualism of the United States.
Just like many of you, I will be keeping my fingers crossed when financial aid awards are revealed. For some students, every dollar makes the difference between whether or not they will be here in the fall.