Increased tuition prices part of larger nat'l trend

by Sasha Dudding | 10/26/11 10:00pm

As the cost of attending college continues to increase across the nation, Dartmouth was ranked the 13th most expensive college in the nation up from 42nd last year making it one of the most expensive schools in the Ivy League, second only to Columbia University, according to rankings released by Campus Grotto on Oct. 6. The recent "tuition explosion" reveals a recent trend in all higher education institutions, and is partially caused by the lack of an effective business model for traditional colleges to follow, Director of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity Richard Vedder said in a Monday lecture for students, faculty members and community members interested in how economics contributes to the changing education landscape.

Dartmouth's combined room, board, fees and tuition total $55,365 for the 2011-2012 academic year, up 5.9 percent from last year's costs. Dartmouth is not alone in increasing its tuition, as in 2007 the first year the Campus Grotto rankings were published George Washington University was the only school to break the $50,000 mark. Today there are 111 schools on the rankings with room, board, fees and tuition costs that exceed $50,000, according to the rankings.

Dartmouth's profile differs from many of the other schools that top this year's list, many of which are located in or just outside of large cities. Urban schools typically have the highest room and board expenses, according to Campus Grotto. Six of the 25 most expensive colleges are located in New York City, which is the nation's most expensive city in which to live, according to Business Insider.

Sixteen of the top 25 most expensive colleges are, like Dartmouth, liberal arts colleges. These smaller schools may increase tuition fees to make up for their smaller endowments, the College's Director of Financial Aid Virginia Hazen said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

The "tuition explosion" is also a result of the lack of an effective business model for older and more-traditional colleges to follow, Vedder said.

Dartmouth students and their families are affected by the same economic factors that affect other schools, and rising college costs can exacerbate these financial difficulties, Hazen said. As families find it more difficult to maintain their current income levels due to the nation's struggling economy, they may have more trouble covering paying tuition and other college expenses, she said.

"It's what's happening to families too, which is the economy," Hazen said.

Dartmouth remains committed to meeting families' demonstrated need through financial aid packages, she said.

Expectations regarding amenities and services in light of increased tuition costs may also drive increased expenditures at the College, according to Hazen.

"Families are expecting more and more and more, and those things cost," she said. "Something has to go up to pay for them."

The Financial Aid Office will grant financial aid offers based on the current cost figures for the 2011-2012 academic year, and will adjust these offers when costs for the 2012-2013 academic year are announced in the spring, Hazen said.

Prospective applicants are unlikely to be deterred by rising costs since their demonstrated need will still be met, according to Hazen. Some students, however, may "self-select" by applying to less expensive schools, Hazen said.

Vedder, who is an economics professor at Ohio University, said in the lecture in the Rockefeller Center that since colleges do not define their success by profit and have no "clearly defined bottom line," college officials instead often focus on their position in annual rankings, he said. The lecture, "Going Broke by Degree," was sponsored by the College Libertarians.

"The academic arms race that the rankings promote incentivizes colleges to raise sticker prices," Vedder said.

Increased tuition prices allow large expenditures in areas like student life, which in turn often boost colleges' rankings on national lists, Vedder said.

"All of this costs tons and buckets of money, so the job of a college president is largely about raising and spending money," he said, adding that although active presidents fiercely deny this statement, retired ones "more or less agree."

The trend of increased prices and expenditures, however, may not continue, according to Vedder.

"Tuition at American colleges and universities has been rising far faster than family income for several decades," he said. "This is not sustainable."

The change in the costs of attending college is largely caused by the struggling economy, and therefore plummeting costs will likely lessen in the future, according to Hazen.

"There will be a slower increase in tuition as the economy improves," she said.

The rising costs of attending Dartmouth and its peer institutions is "kind of unbelievable," Joshua Schiefelbein '14, co-president of the College Libertarians, said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

The Financial Aid Office has not received any complaints from students regarding increased tuition, according to Hazen.

"If anybody [complained], it would be the non-financial aid students because they're not getting the aid to help them with the increasing costs," she said. College Libertarians copresident John Michel '14 said the increased tuition has impacted many of his friends' ability to pay for and attend graduate school.

The Board of Trustees approved Dartmouth's price increase in Spring 2011 as part of the College's attempt to close its $100 million budget gap along with a $3 million increase in financial aid.