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The heavy burden of a golden dome

Jonathan Klingler | Monday, April 16, 2007

I had the pleasure of going to mandatory loan counseling last Wednesday morning as part of the process of getting everything finished for graduation. While the kind folks who ran the counseling did everything they could to make this reality check painless, the enormous cost of college in this country was immediately made tangible before my eyes. If everything goes according to plan, I will be paying off my education at Our Lady’s University until 2022.

Fifty-four percent of Notre Dame undergraduates take out some kind of loan to finance their education. According to the College Board, last year the average tuition fee for four-year private universities increased by 5.9 percent, a rate 2.1 percent above that of inflation. Two months ago Notre Dame announced that tuition for the 2007-08 school year would be $35,187, an increase of 5.4 percent from this year. With costs increasing at a rate significantly higher than inflation, more and more students are unable to receive higher education. A recent report by the U.S. Senate’s Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance found that due to rising costs, an estimated two million qualified students from 2001 to 2010 will conclude that college is just not an affordable option.

College costs are increasing at a rate only exceeded by those of health care, and like health care, costs are out of control in part because those who consume the product are not directly responsible for paying for it. For Notre Dame students, most of us either have family members who pay for our education, receive scholarship money of some sort, take advantage of federally subsidized loans or take out loans freshman year that we will pay off in the then-distant future. I do not believe that “the system” is somehow taking advantage of students – in fact, it is our parents, donors and taxpayers who are being royally screwed in this scheme.

As students, we get to live in a fantasy world for four years that allows us to spend our days taking classes on Japanese pop culture, going to a different bar every weeknight, trying to convince other students to give up eating meat, eggs and milk and writing uninteresting columns for The Observer. Our tuition goes to fund a sweet new football training building, speakers on every subject from all over the world and landscaping that puts some botanical gardens to shame. Along the way, while our non-student peers are working to support themselves, we get to “find ourselves” as we skip the classes we are supposedly paying to attend to instead watch daytime TV and sleep until noon. I’ve heard Notre Dame referred to as a “Catholic theme park” before, and it is important to remember that our four-year pass comes at great cost.

It’s no wonder that universities are encouraged to increase their spending at such a high rate when students don’t actually see the money leaving their pockets that pays for the massive stone entrance to campus, the new digital visualization theater/planetarium at Jordan or poorly attended film festivals at DPAC. There is so much extra cash lying around that Student Union Board could afford to put $650,000 it couldn’t spend into a new endowment instead of giving it back to the University to lower tuition. That amounts to about $100 per undergraduate after counting interest paid from student loans. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have the cash right now than listen to Ana Gasteyer talk about her declining career.

I chose to go to Notre Dame, I chose to pay the tuition price I was offered and I chose to stay here when the price went up. I’ve loved my time here and the freedom to explore my interests has been invaluable, but I do wonder if maintaining Indiana’s best bathrooms in the Main Building is a worthwhile use of my $40,000 a year.

Notre Dame, as we all know, is a very well run business, and there is only one institution which can claim to represent its customers/students, and that is our beloved student government. My co-workers at The Observer often criticize the Student Senate for being ineffective, and I’ve heard multiple student senators tell me that they want something to do. Unlike student governments at some other universities, ours is mostly an advisory body. As such it has an established role as a voice of the student body and for oversight of the administration on behalf of students. It only makes sense that the student government should use its power and legitimate position in this area to vigorously monitor unnecessary spending on the part of the University and push for more transparency in pricing, such as locked-in tuition for students, so that the price they agree to at acceptance is the same they pay when they graduate.

We get to enjoy ourselves for four years, get a degree from the best university in the land and then encounter the hard truth of the real world. Our parents, alumni and University staff may seem to want to depress us by pressing us on grades, jobs or loans, but they are the ones who pay most of the cost to maintain our paradise of 8,332 students. They trust us to make the most out of our opportunities here, and the least we, and the Student Senate we elected, can do is fight to keep that money from being squandered. We not only owe it to them, but to potential members of the Class of 2022 who might decide not to join our family because they can’t afford to pay for our life of luxury.

Jonathan Klingler is a senior management consulting major and president emeritus of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He currently resides in Keenan Hall and enjoys Tolstoy and Matlock. He can be contacted via e-mail at jklingle@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.