Kamel: Northwestern’s latest tuition increase detrimental to students and families

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Jonathan Kamel, Columnist

Over Spring Break, Northwestern students received an email from the University saying tuition will increase by 4 percent next school year. Room and board will also see a 4 percent climb in cost, and with other fees, this will bring the total to attend Northwestern to a whopping $59,389.

According to the email, the justification for this increase is the rapidly climbing need for financial aid, which is not met by the present tuition. This increase, however, will only create more stress for students not receiving financial aid. While a 4 percent increase may not seem very large, this change could force students to take out another loan, work an extra job, or ask their parents to sacrifice even more.

While the University provides about 50 percent of students with financial aid, what will happen to the other 50 percent who believe they are already paying an arm and a leg to attend this fine university? How are across-the-board tuition hikes justifiable in this economy? In an age when college graduates are struggling to find jobs deserving of their education and face an average of more than $25,000 in debt upon graduating, it seems to me that Northwestern is not doing all it can to limit the financial burden placed on college students and their families.

President Morton Schapiro is among the leading university presidents who believe a college education is the best investment a young person can make. While I whole-heartedly agree with him on this belief, college tuition has increased dramatically over the last few decades, much faster than the rate of inflation. In order to get ahead and invest in their future, young people and their families are forced to make an investment with serious financial consequences. The price of attending a private or public university is no longer just a middle class or working class problem. It has become a financial burden that all economic classes must deal with.

President Barack Obama and his administration are aiming to address the issue of rising costs of higher education. Obama, like many other politicians and university presidents, believes higher education must be a priority for every American and that it should be affordable for all. Rising tuition costs, however, make neither of these beliefs realistic or attainable. While financial aid at private institutions across the country has increased to meet the demand of students, it has not been enough. As Obama mentioned in his 2012 State of the Union address, the true problem concerning higher education is the uncontrolled cost of tuition. Obama has repeatedly threatened to pull funding from universities who do not stop their tuition from climbing.

In this context, with an economy that is still growing slowly, a president who has called on university presidents to keep tuition stable, and student debt at an all-time high, I find Northwestern’s recent tuition hike to be a slap in the face. While it is true that tuition has increased almost every year at this university, we as Northwestern students should not be satisfied with the status quo. In the 2009-2010 academic year, the total cost of attending was $49,791. In just four years, Northwestern has increased tuition by almost $10,000.

Universities across the country, not only Northwestern, have cornered students into accepting ridiculous tuition increases and hold a monopoly over the industry of higher education. Tuition increases of 4 percent each year are commonplace and justified by university needs such as maintenance, professor benefits and increased programming that will benefit student life. Yet the question we must ask ourselves is how long we can accept these tuition increases.

If Northwestern plans to continue tuition increases for the next 10 years as it did for the last decade, the total price tag to attend could reach $75,000 per year. At the current rate of increase, financial aid will be unable to meet the “need-blind” admission process that is so central to our university’s creed. There will simply not be enough money to provide every student who needs it with aid. It is irresponsible and unwise to believe that this system will continue to function as we want it to in the future.

The ballooning cost of higher education is a problem that faces my generation and every generation of students who follow after me. It is unfair to ourselves and our children to not deal with this issue while we have the opportunity to demand change.

Jonathan Kamel is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].