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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Francfort: Costly College Tuitions

College is getting much more expensive. This fact has grown clear over the last 10 years here in Hanover, as the total cost to attend Dartmouth has increased by over 61 percent. But this isn't just a local trend. All across the nation, tuition is skyrocketing. This dismaying fact has caused many students and parents alike to feel uneasy about the accessibility of a college degree. Just a couple weeks ago, The Dartmouth Editorial Board expressed their hope that the College would make an effort to decrease the costs of attending Dartmouth ("Verbum Ultimum: A Rising Price Tag," Oct. 19). But as long as the federal government, and our society as a whole, continues calling for greater numbers of young adults to enter college, these costs will not go down but instead continue hurtling upward.

On first glance, the problem of rising tuition across the nation seems to suggest a need for relief. If costs are advancing faster than inflation, somehow the difference between what college students can afford and what they are expected to pay needs to be covered. Our nation's last three presidents all agreed that this task was one for the federal government to undertake. Consequently, total federal aid for college rose from $64 billion in 2000 to $169 billion in 2010, according to the College Board. By increasing this financial support, the government hoped to ease the burden placed on students by rising tuition costs.

Unfortunately, this has not broadly been the case. The average debt load, adjusted for inflation, for new graduates rose by 24 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Progressive Policy Institution. Instead of finding their financial burdened lessened, college students are finding themselves in an even worse situation than they were in a decade ago.

Although proving that the federal government's increased expenditures on education have led to increased tuition costs would be nearly impossible to do over such a short time period, it is certainly worth considering. Federal financial aid is a major source of revenue for many colleges in the United States. Because much of this aid is given based on the difference between what students can afford and what the College charges, there are considerable incentives for the College to increase costs of attendance. In a world where college rankings magnify the need to have state-of-the-art facilities and top-notch faculty, colleges will strive to make the most of their available resources. Now, with federal funding of higher education on the rise, these schools are finding a larger pool of money to pull from.

Much of this problem ultimately comes down to misplaced incentives. As every new list of college rankings come out, we obsess over the place of our school. Administrators respond to these rankings by pouring money into new sports facilities and professors who bring in big research grants. But these rankings have little bearing on the student experience. The education we are getting surely hasn't improved by 61 percent in 10 years. Even after adjusting for inflation, that is an increase of 18 percent in expenditures in one decade. Although I'd like to think that Dartmouth has become that much better of a school, it is an unrealistic fallacy.

According to the law of supply and demand, the price of attending college will not come down until our demand falls. If we were to halt our increases in aid, that could help slow tuition growth. This would not bar low-income individuals from having access to the best schools in the country. Top colleges value the contributions that a diverse student body offers. There is no way that the rising tuition costs, which often are double the rate of inflation, are justified by the market for college.

It is a noble goal for our country to give all its young students the chance to achieve higher education, but the federal government can't afford to endlessly subsidize it. In the wake of the financial crisis, many college graduates have been unable to find the type of work for which their degree qualifies them. These underemployed workers are only now starting to recognize the difficulties that mounting student loans present. Let's stop piling debt onto both our college graduates and our nation's tab. The cost of aid, already at over 1 percent of the federal budget, will become a serious problem if we don't address it soon. The focus of our higher education system in America should be one of education and value, not rankings and unnecessary services.