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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

Rise in tuition deserves more scrutiny

By Phillip Timmer
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 14, 2008

After a surprisingly relaxing day of classes, I found a slip from the college in my p.o. box. I was initially assuaged by the "Dear St. Olaf Students," as it portended that I wasn't being reprimanded for some personally forgotten offense.

Then I realized what I was reading. The slip indicated exactly how much per capita financial injury the college would be dealing out in the next academic year.

While some of you may have already maniacally carved one of these figures into your desk or hand, for those of you who have forgotten them, they are $42,200 for new students and $40,600 for those of you now reading and not graduating in the spring or transferring next year in response to tuition costs or the dry-campus policy.

Reading the slip induced in me flashbacks from last year, when I learned that students without financial aid or academic scholarships would be charged $38,500.

If this figure is adjusted for 2007 US inflation, the figure obtained is $39,597. The discrepancy between that value and tuition fees for 2008-2009 is $2,603 for incoming first years, and $1,003 for returning students.

Given that inflation fluctuates and is currently higher than the 2007 average, these increases in the true price of tuition might be forgivable, were it not for the consistent decline in real wages over the last few years in this country. Essentially, wages and salaries in the U.S. -- which in addition to loans fund post-secondary education -- have been growing at a rate lower than that of inflation, which is lower than the rate at which our tuition is increasing.

These trends compound each other, and students and their families are invariably the victims. It would be in alarmist spirit to claim that St. Olaf is the only perpetrator, but that these aggregate increases in true tuition costs nationwide are in turn used to justify more raises multiplies the financial penalty for students.

Truthfully, what perturbs me most about this tuition increase is not the nominal change in price but the fact that President Anderson (and by extension the Board of Regents) rationalizes the raise by claiming that "compared to the cost of other leading liberal arts colleges in our region and nationally, St. Olaf remains a tremendous value." This implies that it is acceptable to increase tuition simply as a response to the same action by similar institutions.

With tuition costs already dizzyingly high, the thought of a more explicit cartel of colleges raising price in unison is terrifying. I believe this trend to be deliberate and unethical.

St. Olaf cannot be regarded as a business. If the Board seeks to increase revenues by making our school relatively more tuition-competitive (or uncompetitive, from one perspective), it should at least be forced to explain its new billing with a clear delineation of reasons for tuition increases, which should be included with the P.O. slips.

Tuition hikes should not multiply simply for reproduction's sake. If I had received a letter explaining some reasons for the increase rather than had President Anderson attempt to placate me by stating that St. Olaf is a relative value, I would not have been upset& well, much less so.

Phillip Timmer '09 is from Edina, Minn. He majors in political science and economics.

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