Tuition increase is anything but average

By Editorial Board

On Feb. 6, President Warrick L. Carter announced a 5.2 percent tuition increase for the 2012–2013 school year in an email to the college community. Carter went on to state that this increase is “in line” with the national average. In reality, the national yearly tuition increase for four-year, nonprofit, private colleges for the previous year is 4.6 percent. Though housing costs have been reduced and scholarship funds increased, not all students will benefit from these changes, and Carter should not have minimized the impact of a tuition increase.

While Columbia students paid less for overall tuition and fees than most other four-year private colleges, the tuition increase rate is still higher than most other institutions, even though Columbia’s enrollment has declined during the last three years. Nationally, average enrollment has increased at most colleges.

To say this is “in line” with the national average is inaccurate. Carter could not begin to predict what other colleges are charging for the 2012–2013 academic year because it simply has not been determined yet, as reported in the Feb. 13 issue of The Chronicle.

Though the difference between the national average and Columbia’s tuition increase is small, Carter did not acknowledge it, and that is disappointing.

The recession may “technically” have ended, but students and their families are still struggling to pay for college. For the 2011–2012 academic year, the median income for families of college students decreased 11 percent compared to 3 percent just a few years ago, according to a College Board report. This includes students at Columbia. Carter did address that student debt was a growing concern, but in the face of the prioritization process and other taxing changes at Columbia, a pat on the back to the college community from its president would have been a nice boost to morale.

However, the glum news was prefaced with good news: On-campus housing was “negotiated” to an 8 percent decrease, and scholarship funds will see a 21 percent overall increase.

More opportunities to earn scholarships and decreased room and board costs are, no doubt, wonderful news for thousands of students. But that’s just it: Only a fraction of Columbia’s students really benefit from these new improvements. Not every student will earn a scholarship, and many live off campus in their own apartments, where rent is ultimately much cheaper. Yet all students, regardless of where they live or how many scholarship awards they receive, must pay more tuition. It simply is not an equal trade-off.

Perhaps Carter was misinformed, but if this is true, then it is once again disappointing. Students, faculty and staff are struggling in the midst of a prioritization process, major financial setbacks and program cuts. They deserve to be told the unadulterated truth with a little more sensitivity and tact.