Rising loan rates drive Ivy League price hikes

by Dax Tejera | 7/7/05 5:00am

Starting this fall, Dartmouth will join each of its Ivy League peers in charging undergraduates over $40,000 in tuition, room, board and mandatory fees for the 2005-2006 academic year. The move comes in the light of a controversial interest rate hike on government student loans that went into effect July 1.

According to Adam Keller, executive vice president for finance and administration at the College, Dartmouth's tuition and fees increased 4.8 percent by order of the Board of Trustees earlier this year.

That rate brings undergraduate costs to $41,355, making Dartmouth the third-least costly Ivy League institution. The College also ranks third in lowest cost percentage increases from last year.

Three terms at Dartmouth, the standard annual enrollment period for university students, will cost $31,965 in tuition and activity fees, $5,640 in dormitory charges and $3,750 for a baseline meal plan during the upcoming academic year.

Colleges across the nation have steadily boosted tuition and fees between an average of 5 and 6 percent since the mid-1990s.

In some cases, the increases have outpaced inflation by as much as 5 percentage points.

According to a College Board survey released last October, Ivy League university costs are in the top 3.9 percent of all colleges and universities in the United States.

While Dartmouth remains committed to need-blind admissions and meeting full demonstrated need, College Provost Barry Scherr acknowledged the strain increased tuition poses on students who do not qualify for aid.

"As long as the cost of education increases as fast as it has over the last decade or so, those pressures are likely to continue," Scherr said.

The "saving grace," Scherr added, was that while increasing costs are here to stay, more students may be eligible for financial aid.

In addressing the burden of rising tuition costs, Scherr cited various institutional expectations, ranging from low faculty-student ratios to state of the art facilities.

"There's greater demand to provide more," Scherr said. Dartmouth and its peers "face a strong impetus to provide the highest quality education possible."

The $40,000 threshold that is now standard across the Ivy League comes in the wake of recent Congressional action that will effectively increase the interest rate on government-issued Stafford loans, a popular low interest rate student loan. The new interest rate on consolidation of those loans will amount to a 1.93 percent increase over last year's rates.

The increase, which will raise another 1.5 to 2.0 percent by July 1, 2006, is among the highest rate increases in several years.

While rates differ depending on whether students consolidate before or after graduation, the universal rate increase of 1.93 percent will only add to the thousands of dollars a typical undergraduate borrows. Graduate students, in some cases, face tens of thousands of dollars in loans.

"The amount of federal support for education, particularly schools like Dartmouth, has decreased over the years," Scherr said.

Keller said that while the College's chief combatant to rising tuition costs is its well-endowed financial aid program, Dartmouth also offers its students loans through a subsidiary loan corporation. The organization, which Keller said is most popular with medical and business school students, also serves undergraduates by holding rates constant next year.

"We've been big advocates for maintaining as much aid as possible for student -- at the best rates," Keller said, adding that the College has lobbied New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg on the issue.

Among other Ivy League universities, Columbia University ranks highest in total cost, as tuition, fees, room and board will total $42,584, a 5.0 percent increase from last year. Cornell University will raise its costs by the lowest percentage, raising fees $41,767, a 4.3 increase; Brown University $41,770, a 4.9 percent increase from last year; Harvard University $41,675, a 4.5 percent increase; the University of Pennsylvania will cost $41,766, a 5.4 percent increase; Princeton University costs the least at $40,213, after raising its fees 5 percent; and Yale University will charge $41,000 -- the 5.5 percent increase is the largest percentage increase in fees.