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Show me the money

Joe Trombello | Tuesday, October 14, 2003

According to a recent study by a mutual fund trading group, 50 percent of American families expect to have about $35,000 saved up to pay college tuition by the time their first child turns 18. This means that most families can expect to have saved between one and two years of college tuition – although at some colleges, $35,000 translates into less than a year once room and board are factored in.

From 1992-2002, while inflation rose 28 percent, the average in-state cost of attending public schools rose 79 percent. The University of Arizona increased its tuition by more than 39 percent this year, and many other public colleges hiked up their tuition by proportionate eye-popping amounts. Private institutions imposed similar tuition increases, raising the price of an education nearly 75 percent between 1992-2002, according to a 2002 report from CollegeBoard titled “Trends in College Pricing.”

Although student financial aid increased more than the cost of college tuition and fees over the past decade, much of that growth has been through loans, not grants. Grants declined from half of all total aid to 39 percent in the past 11 years. Current students graduate from college with an average of $19,000 in debt, according to a 2002 National Student Loan Survey conducted by Nellie Mae, and students must frequently work increasing hours to make ends meet.

All of these statistics point to a troubling problem in college education – simply put, college tuition is far too high.

Administrators should be embarrassed that they have allowed college costs to skyrocket far beyond price increases due to inflation. It’s time to take a serious look at why costs continue to rise.

Why must colleges spend exorbitant amounts of money on frills like $70 million student centers (Vermont) or $54 million sports complexes (Rhode Island)? How can administrators continue to view these items as necessities? Colleges should be comfortable places for students to live and to study, but are lavish expenses like these really necessary?

College officials need to do a better job of seriously examining expenditures. Faculty salaries, maintenance costs, financial aid expenditures – nothing should be left unquestioned. College students and their parents should demand greater accountability from school officials and receive more accessibility to financial data.

It’s time to do something serious about the cost of educating a student, before work-study programs turn into work-work programs.