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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Inflation Doesn’t Justify Huge, Annual College Tuition Increases

College graduations are in full swing these days and almost as predictable are the announcements of annual tuition increases that precede these joyous occasions by a few weeks but, hark, from southern Kansas comes a discordant note: Southwestern College (Winfield, Kansas) declares that it “will reduce tuition by $800 for the 1985-86 school year.”
College President Bruce P. Blake said that “quality is affordable at Southwestern” — a small liberal arts institution with 427 full time students. This is not a strip-mining decision. There has been a ten percent increase in faculty during the last four years and there are other plans to intensify the value of the college students apart from the usual vocational hype that recruiting schools like the University of Bridgeport deploy in newspaper ads.

Next year’s tuition at Southwestern College will be $2,940, down from $3,740 for this year’s bill. This makes the college less expensive to students by over a thousand dollars than the average tuition of other private colleges in Kansas.

Now consider the tuition picture elsewhere. Many of the Ivy League schools (Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Brown) are over $10,000 a year for tuition. Smaller private colleges such as Dickinson and Wittenberg colleges are at the $6,000 range. Nationwide both private and public colleges and universities have increased tuition by an overage of 10 percent a year since 1960, higher than the inflation rate during that period.

All this leads to a greater debt-ridden college graduate population which increases the graduates’ reliance on job security instead of risk-taking of assuming lower-paid public-spirited careers doing good works in various civic areas.

The central question which parents and students alike have not demanded be answered is: where is the detailed justification for such annual tuition increases?

When I was a student at Princeton, the annual tuition in 1954 was $600 a year. We were told that such a sum paid for half our education. Today, o’er $10,000 a year in tuition still is said to pay for half the education of today’s Princetonians. Well, since $600 in 1954 is worth about $2000 today, what explains the difference? More expensive equipment in the labs, higher salaries for professors and maintenance workers, a greater demand for physical improvements, higher insurance rates are some customary responses. But we are talking about a tuition increase that is five times higher than that of 1954 in constant dollars. Certainly professors and college workers do not make that much more today.

It is reported that the biggest single specialization of university students today is concentrated on business courses. About 25% of all students choose this field of vocational study. Well, why aren’t any of these students — undergraduate or graduate — doing cost analysis of university operations for term papers or theses? Could there be enormous waste to be discovered, poor management techniques, energy inefficiency or dozens of other cost areas that could be tightened? College and university costs are a worthy intellectual challenge for business school students.

Maybe a little competition for lower tuition rates ins needed. Maybe parents and high school seniors should write to President Blake at Southwestern College (100 College Street, Winfield, KS 67156) to find out how the inevitability of the rising tuition spiral can be stopped.

Paying college tuition bills should not put parents in the grip of conspicuous consumption, of feeling that any price is worth paying for their children, especially since nothing can be done about it. Tuition is not like taxes. Since, even taxes are being changed, can tuition be far behind?