Holcomb: CWRU Tuition Increases

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As my days left at CWRU dwindle to an end, I find myself in a period of deep reflection. I have grown a great deal over the course of my formal education. There is a strange mix of trepidation and excitement in my thoughts. I believe I am ready to move on, but I will miss the peculiarities of campus and life as a student entrenched in learning.

That being said, there are certain things I will be glad to no longer worry about. There is one last grievance I would like to air in the hope that what little attention I can garner may promote some kind of change.

Tuition for many American colleges and universities has been trending upwards even faster than inflation. Part of this rise is being fueled by increases in the number of people willing to go to college. According to a New York Times article, enrollment in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs has increased by almost 50 percent since 1995. Moreover, state funding for education has skyrocketed. By 1980 state funding for higher education had increased 390 percent in real terms over the previous 20 years. Yet despite the large influx of money, tuition rates were not reduced. According to the same article, by 2009 money coming from the state reached an inflation-adjusted high of 86.6 billion.

Of course, if CWRU can keep finding students to pay the exorbitant fees they charge, why not continue the increase?  A large portion of students are offered a substantial amount of money to attend CWRU, and the difference is picked up by foreign exchange students who have no choice but to pay full price. The craziest part is, even with subsidies, it would still be more economical for most students to attend state schools at full price. Even if students get into better schools, they may not get nearly as much aid, and that factors a great deal into their decision-making.

I asked the exchange student I roomed with freshman year about this fact, and he shrugged it off. His parents were paying for everything and even pressured him to apply in the first place. But while he may not feel the weight of these fees, those that would normally have made the cut do. If people can’t afford their education, they borrow and get themselves into debt, or they simply choose a weaker school that they can afford. In effect, CWRU skims off the top. Sometimes a few points difference on your GPA (which for my money is quite inconsequential) can rapidly change your prospects. If you are not rich, that is.

And where is this money going? Better teachers? You would hope, right? Nope. Most teachers here at CWRU have not had an annual pay raise of more than a two percent since they attained tenure. There is a dearth of hiring, and most departments simply are not growing.

This problem, like rising tuition rates, is not unique to CWRU. On average, full-time teaching salaries are barely higher than they were in 1970, and that is not even counting the rise in lower-paid part-time teaching positions.

So where is the money going? Administrative bloat.

Remember how the Tinkham Veale University Center (TVUC) was originally marketed as a student center. I was supremely disappointed when I found out it was just full of offices, a few chairs and tables and a food court. In many cases, these administrators do not have the same connection with the students as teachers do, at least not with a majority of the student body. Again, this is a national problem. The previously mentioned article in the New York Times states, “According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.”

Did the millions of dollars funneled into TVUC really enhance the student body’s education by an equal value? Imagine if just a fraction of that sum had been dedicated to giving teachers raises and recruiting the best of the best to come to CWRU and teach. Or if that money had been used to build, equip and update research labs and to stimulate the growth of CWRU’s libraries so students would have a multitude of options to get first-hand experience with cutting edge tools and research. Well, library funding is being cut, not increased. I would hazard a guess that such changes would increase the value of a student’s education far more than TVUC does.

But let me be clear. I understand the rationale behind TVUC. It is a far more visible and flashy way to show prospective students how great CWRU is. Simply put, the American educational system prizes form over function. It feels that if universities are not continually building new and impressive dorms and other structures, they are not viewed as highly as those that do, and that is a real shame. Prospective students don’t ask about teacher salaries.  They ask about that shiny new building every tour walks them by. It is all just smoke and mirrors to make the university look like the best option in order to attract the best students, and thus increase the prestige of the school. It is how the game is currently played, but that does not mean change is impossible.

That being said, for all its faults, if I was to write an article about everything CWRU does right, I would not have the time or the space. I am extremely appreciative of all the resources and opportunities provided to me and I don’t want to sound ungrateful. There is engaging and personable faculty and a plethora of other amenities I have grown fond of over the course of my undergraduate experience. My criticism comes from a place of love.

This is my final article for The Observer, and thus ends my brief but enjoyable stint into journalism. I would like to thank everyone who reads or has ever read my column, all the staff at The Observer for making this possible, and I would like to thank CWRU for making my stay here a great one. I will remember the campus and people I met here fondly.

Adios friends. It’s been real.