Verbum Ultimum: Unacceptable Unaffordability

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 3/3/13 11:00pm

On Saturday, the Board of Trustees announced a significant increase in Dartmouth's cost of attendance ("College costs to rise 3.8 percent," Mar. 4). Next year, Dartmouth will become the second Ivy League institution after Columbia to exceed $60,000 per year in student costs. The raise, however, is actually the smallest percentage increase in Dartmouth's cost of attendance in over 10 years. These repeated, exorbitant hikes are distressing to current students and may explain much of the College's difficulty securing its yield in recent years.

The facts are simple. Undergraduate tuition, room, board and mandatory fees have increased to $60,201 in 2013-2014 from $52,275 in 2010-2011. Meanwhile, the College's operating budget, which excludes capital expenditures, ballooned to $981 million in fiscal year 2014 from $829 million in fiscal year 2011. Put differently, undergraduate cost and the College's operating expenses have increased by more than 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively, in just three years. By comparison, the U.S. consumer price index, a measure of overall inflation, has risen by less than 6.5 percent in the same period.

We undergraduates highly value what Dartmouth has to offer. However, over the last three years, the cost of attendance and the College's spending has skyrocketed while, if anything, student dissatisfaction has grown. Dartmouth has long defended its sticker price by pointing out that the true cost of a Dartmouth education is more than double the amount charged to students. But this is also valid for other Ivies, all but one of whom have a lower cost of attendance.

Given the significant increases in cost of attendance, it is perhaps not surprising that Dartmouth's yield has been in decline. Princeton's annual cost of attendance is $6,000 less than Dartmouth's. For students who are admitted to both schools, an extra $6,000 per year in costs does not make the decision to attend Dartmouth any easier.

We propose two simple goals to stop this madness: first, the College should commit to, within three years, having a cost of attendance that is no more than the average cost of attendance at other Ivy League universities. The cost of living is lower in the Upper Valley than in the areas where our peer institutions are located. Second, before the Class of 2018 matriculates, the College should clearly spell out the cost of attendance for all four years of a students' time in Hanover. In few aspects of life other than higher education will an individual commit to paying for something before they actually know what the price will be. The College should be honest with prospective students about the total cost of their education. These items are the least that students can expect from Dartmouth.

**An earlier version of this article misspelled unaffordability in the title.*