It’s the time of year when housing decisions for next semester are at the forefront of students’ minds. The living situation one decides on will undoubtedly have a huge impact on day-to-day life and is taken lightly by few. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a living space, but inevitably the issue of cost must be dealt with.
Tuition for colleges and universities has been trending upwards and with higher fees come bigger loans, higher opportunity costs attached to attending school and heavier burdens on poorer students.
Case Western Reserve University has already announced a 3.75 percent room-rate increase for the majority of undergraduate housing in addition to a 3.25 percent increase in undergraduate tuition, the latter raising the tuition cost of attending CWRU to $44,160. Student reactions to rising costs are predictably negative. The increases follow the announcement of a number of initiatives and projects scheduled for the upcoming academic year, all intended to make CWRU a better place for both students and faculty. This takes the form of new facilities, a broader curriculum and other miscellaneous enhancements.
Cost has become a major concern for many college and university students who are forced to choose between sacrificing the quality of their education and incurring a mountain of debt. CWRU is not the only school subject to this situation by any means. With the prestige of the American university system comes demand, and the competition to gain entrance into high-rated institutions has become fierce. In order to entice higher quality students to apply, schools often drive up costs by financing improvements and incentives. These costs are subsidized somewhat by donations from alumni and occasionally the government, but a sizeable portion of is still borne by student tuition (varying from school to school of course). This forces less advantaged students to make decisions based on costs rather than quality and to take out larger loans more frequently.
In 2012, 71 percent of students graduating from four-year colleges had student loan debt, and the average debt level for all graduating seniors was $29,400, which is a 25 percent increase from $23,450 in 2008. America is unique among industrialized nations in that it places the burden of education finance primarily on students and their parents. To make matters worse, the cost of a college degree in America, including public universities, is relatively high. In the end, this model privileges wealthy families who can buy the best education and perpetuates the marriage of money and success.
This inequality is far removed from the American ideal of equality of opportunity where hard work is rewarded no matter where you come from. Institutions must address the sustainability of this model of constant improvement and the accompanying cost increases. Were my first two years here at CWRU really worse off for not having the Tinkham Veale University Center? Does the $25 million a year to operate it result in a $25 million value increase in student education, or is it just window dressing in a system that prizes form over function?
Some kind of reform has to make colleges and universities more economical and efficient for people from all walks of life. Fortunately the solution is already in motion at many college campuses.
Virtual classrooms require little upkeep, and they don’t require outrageously priced meal plans and housing options. In terms of education, they offer the same resources any class here at CWRU would. You can interact with teachers and fellow peers over the web and study the same material you would in a physical classroom. The biggest obstacle online classes must overcome is the stigma that they are somehow inferior to attending physical classes. Sites like openculture.com are good examples of ways to get knowledge efficiently to those who desire it.
The more formalized online education becomes, the easier, more efficient and more economical education becomes. If I were an administrator here at CWRU, I would start considering a virtual campus.
Chandler Holcomb is a junior at Case Western Reserve University.