Traynor: What Are We Paying For?

by Zach Traynor | 9/22/14 6:47pm

This spring, the Board of Trustees voted to raise tuition and mandatory fees by 2.9 percent. While this was the lowest increase since 1977, it was still significantly higher than the nation’s inflation rate, as has been the case for at least the past decade. As in previous years, the Trustees failed to meaningfully explain those tuition hikes to the students and families who must pay these higher prices. This lack of transparency and accountability is deeply troubling.

We must know what Dartmouth students are really receiving in return for these higher prices, if anything. Better education and learning opportunities? There is little evidence for this. We’ve lost our top spot in undergraduate education, which may not be a cause of concern today, but may herald a more disturbing trend. We have also seen declines in off-campus program enrollment despite an increased number of available programs, as well as a lack of variety in summer term course offerings. Dining or campus housing options continue to remain stagnant. Dartmouth Dining Services maintains its monopoly on the campus food landscape, and though some improvements have been made, like the $100 DBA rollover, it leaves much to be desired. More importantly, many residential buildings, primarily the Choates and River clusters, remain in troubling states of disrepair. We have not seen better technology or infrastructure either. We must see tangible effects on student life, and actual benefits to Dartmouth students, as a result of these increased costs. If Dartmouth students are not benefiting from tuition hikes, who is?

Those footing the bill for our education — parents, students or financial aid contributors — have a right to know where their money is going. When companies announce price increases, they explain their reasons to the public. Chipotle, for example, recently increased prices because of the rising cost of several food products such as avocados and beef. If a corporation can explain minute price changes, certainly the Trustees can explain the thousands of extra dollars we pay each year because of tuition hikes.

Due to the lack of transparency regarding our tuition money, it becomes difficult to understand why Dartmouth is the most expensive Ivy. We are not located in a major city, so real estate costs shouldn’t be an issue, and professors at Dartmouth, on average, make less than their colleagues at comparable institutions, suggesting that our money isn’t going to higher faculty salaries. At Harvard, full professors earn $33,100 more on average than their Dartmouth colleagues, and we pay our female professors only 82.8 percent as much as male professors — dead last in the Ivies by a wide margin and close to last in the nation.

Furthermore, increased tuition can heighten the barrier of entry into the College, and ambiguity about where the money is going only exacerbates the problem. According to the New York Times, Dartmouth is 31st in economic diversity among elite colleges. One of the major problems Dartmouth faces is a lack of diversity. Socioeconomic status tends to correlate with race, so decreased economic diversity can easily lead to a lack of diversity in other areas as well, another major problem Dartmouth faces. These consistent tuition hikes are making Dartmouth less affordable and less inclusive, reinforcing our stereotypical external image of a wealthy and privileged student body with little regard for those from diverse backgrounds.

Last November, College President Phil Hanlon said he wanted to keep the cost of tuition flat with inflation, essentially adjusting the cost of Dartmouth to better fit normal economic trends. Hanlon and the Trustees must abide by this promise by implementing such a change for the next academic year, and they must tell us where all the money we have poured into Dartmouth has actually gone.

Traynor is a contributing columnist.

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