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Notre Dame, Hike, Hike, Hike

Elephant in the Room | Thursday, March 3, 2011

I don’t know if you read the paper the other day, but once again tuition rates at our fine school have gone up 3.8 percent, or more simply it is now $2,180 more expensive to get the same education you bought last year. This is a downward trend from a 5.9 percent increase in 2008-09, and 4.4 percent increase in 2009-10. In fact, the price of my senior year is going to be 13.1 percent more expensive than the price of my freshman year, a net increase totaling $6,125. If I were to pay the freshman year rate, my total tuition with on-campus living would be $186,720. With the increases over time, I actually pay $199,085, a total increase of $12,365 over four years. Taking into account an annual inflation rate of 1 to 2 percent in recent years, this is a vast overcharge for what is supposed to be a non-profit institution.

The truth of the matter is it is not totally Notre Dame’s fault. It’s not Jenkins fault or anyone that works in Dome. This is a problem that is plaguing all institutions of higher learning but especially the top tier private colleges and universities.  There is a culture that has existed for some time where if you raise in the price five percent every year, people will still pay it because of the perceived value of a college degree in our culture. They have an inelastic market that allows them to set the price and people will continue to pay just like smokers who don’t have as much choice as others on whether to buy cigarettes.

There is also a real lack of transparency on where our money is going. A private institution does not have to disclose such information, but undoubtedly there is probably waste and corruption that goes on behind those closed doors, despite the University’s commitment to cutting back. Which brings up another question: if the University is making broad cuts across the board, why is tuition going up? Only God and Jenkins knows.

There are also other factors at work. The debt game is a big player in what is enabling this cash cow for universities. It is very easy to obtain student loans especially through the government. The problem is that kids wind up with high debt after graduation even though they may not have studied a major that leads to a career, let alone a lucrative one. I understand we want kids of all backgrounds, the best of the best, regardless of financial constraints to attend our top universities, but we are actually reaching a point where the price is so high that you are not doing them a favor by putting them into so much debt. It doesn’t help much either if they decide to invest the time and money to attend school and not learn something useful that they can take to the real world.

There needs to be some kind of reform to control this problem.  Implementing a voucher system where I can take my parent’s state university taxes and put it toward paying for the college of my choice would be a positive improvement.

Reform in the college loan process that takes into account what you are studying, would not only vastly improve debt rates, but would filter more students into the sciences and engineering disciplines, studies that lead to high growth jobs and careers. top-20 caliber private institutions should look at using their vast endowments to subsidize the tuition of current students.

There is no greater good than an educated youth, and no greater waste than a wasted mind. Smarter beings than myself will think of a solution, but we need to implement it soon, because the problem is only get bigger every year. Compound 5 percent a year every year until you have college-age children and you will wonder if attending college is really worth it, something we want to discourage for the sake of future generations.

Mark Easley is a junior majoring in computer science.  He can be reached at measley@nd.edu

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

necessarily those of The Observer.