Debate Team: Tuition hikes kick students while they're down

tuitiion hikesWelcome to "Debate Team," a new Money College feature where two students duke it out on the financial issues that mean the most to their peers. Should college students protest funding cuts, as they've done recently at Berkeley and elsewhere? Haverford College student Nick Farina says absolutely, and takes issue with those who disagree -- including his Money College cohort, LeeAnn Maton.

If you're lucky, you might have heard or read about the rapidly rising cost of attending college.

If you're unlucky, you might be deeply in debt, facing an uncertain job market, and regretting your entire decision to go to college in the first place.
If you're LeeAnn, I guess you haven't heard or experienced either of these things.

Last Thursday, thousands of people around the United States protested against the rising cost of college education, specifically the staggering rise of California public university tuition by more than 30%.

The protesters ran the gamut from students, teachers, administrators, and parents, but one thing united them: frustration and fury at the stratospheric increases in the cost of college tuition. They were sick of educational costs becoming prohibitively expensive for the very people that need them most, sick of people ending their four years of college with crippling debt, and sick of colleges ignoring the problem.

And you know what? They're right. The rising cost of college has gotten out of hand, and something needs to change.

Why should college tuition stay low? Because college, while certainly not a right, should not be reserved merely for the privileged or those willing to risk their future by taking on huge debt loads. A college education provides a young person with not only increased earning power and a large network, but also with sharpened critical thinking skills, lifelong friends, and a deepened sense of self.

College represents an awesome opportunity to grow socially, intellectually and emotionally. And people should be able to experience the core elements of college for the lowest possible cost that it can be made available to them.

Let's not overlook the fact that this is maybe the worst possible time ever to increase the prices of anything, let alone education. Due to the recession, families – and students - have less money than ever. All over America, people are cutting their expenditures on non-essential items. For most people, unfortunately, college tuition does not fall into the survival category.

That's a shame, because it should. In an economy where it's harder than ever to find a job, young people today need every advantage that they can get, making college one of the most necessary expenditures that I can think of at this point in time.

But no. Colleges don't want to play nice. Instead, they're kicking students while they're down.

Now now, I know what you're thinking. 'Yeah that's great, but colleges need the money! They were hit just as badly as the average American during the recession!'

I don't buy it. Rising college costs are nothing new. In fact, tuition has been rising faster than inflation for many years – college costs are rising at double the rate of general inflation. This trend that has been around since 1958, and at no point since then has college tuition risen on par with inflation - it's always been higher. This is a continued trend, and one with no satisfactory explanation. Colleges use the same services and resources that other businesses do, so why do they need twice as much money as the rest of the world?

Well, I think I might have the answer. Think about the luxury new dorm building at Boston University complete with plasma TVs and private bathrooms (where's the fun in that?). Or the $47 million student center at Wesleyan. Or even the small things, like the $19,000 awnings added to the apartments at Haverford, where I go to school.

By the way, they're really ugly.

And somewhere out there, a young graduate is working at Starbucks to pay off their loans while universities spend more and more in a sort of "arms race" to "attract the best and brightest." And while it's true that some students choose their college for aesthetic reasons – or because they just really like awnings – I'm certain that the majority of students would rather colleges drastically overhaul their budgets.

Students would rather colleges stop adding unnecessary buildings and Mongolian barbecues (Wesleyan), and start using their money to make college as affordable as is possible for students.

It's time for colleges to act like any other business, and start listening to their customers.

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