By Michael Calhoun
Ask people what they know about college tuition and usually you get one of two answers: they either say that it costs too much, or that it’s rising too fast. Especially if you ask college students. At the University of Pittsburgh last November, a protest condemning the rising tuition cost for students ended with three students being detained by police, with two of them being arrested. While the explosive conclusion of the protest can be attributed to the simultaneous discontent spurned by president Trump’s victory in the election, tensions are still undoubtedly high regarding raising tuition costs.
In the University of Pittsburgh’s budget history, the total amount of money raised through tuition from 2015 to 2016 rose from $580,633 to $588,087, an increase of $7,454. In contrast, inside the proposed budget for 2017 the net amount of money raised through tuition will be $604,374, an increase of $16,287 from 2016’s budget that will be fronted onto the students of the University of Pittsburgh. That nearly doubles the increase from last year. Some of this can be accounted to the expected growth in attendance from incoming freshman and new graduate students, but it will most likely translate into yet another tuition increase for students.
Much of this change is working towards growing salaries and wages for faculty and staff, which are increasing by $24,346 in the 2017 budget; but there is also a nebulous “Other” category in the budget that is going from $46,665 to $58,071 in 2017, an $11,352 increase. Carnegie Mellon has also seen drastic increases in tuition cost, with their 2016 annual financial report listing the total revenue for the university from tuition increasing from $450,673 in 2015 to $482,365 in 2016.
These incredible increases are actually perfectly in line with a decades-long trend in American higher education. A recent Forbes article reported that tuition price in real dollars has increased by over 100% at public four-year institutions in the past 20 years, even after adjusting for inflation. Similarly, the tuition cost for private four-year universities has increased by over 60% in the past two decades, while family incomes have only increased by 20% in that time.
Searching for reasons why this trend continues results in a plethora of possible explanations. A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research cites increasing federal aid as responsible for the price hike, while some like Ronald Ehrenberg, an economics professor at Cornell, believe the culprit is dwindling state support. In response to these exorbitant costs, New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a plan to make all of the public institutions in the state provide free tuition for families who make less than $125,000 a year. Plans like this would make a huge difference for hundreds of families, and this proposal is a promising statement for increased state support for higher education, but it still needs to get passed to offer any actual benefits. The fact remains that students and their families are suffering from incredulous tuition prices, and the US will face wider education disparities if nothing is done to make higher education more affordable for our youths.