Rising tuition costs grossly outpacing inflation

by Alanna Carlson | Staff Writer

If you ask most students currently enrolled in an American college about the price of attendance, you’re likely to be inundated with complaints about exorbitant and rising costs. That’s because the cost of tuition and fees for institutions of higher education in the U.S. have risen at an extortionate rate in the past 20 years.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of tuition to attend a private university for the 1997-1998 academic year was $16,233 — that’s $24,791.48, adjusted for inflation. In 20 years, that average jumped to $41,727 in 2017. With a near 70 percent increase, it’s no wonder students today are complaining so loudly about the costs.

Yes, universities have higher costs of upkeep now than they did 20 years ago. Undeniably, universities across the country are offering more services to their students than ever before. But it’s hard to imagine that the cost of those services is worth an increase of almost 70 percent, especially when the U.S. is currently rated number 15 in the world for education, according to New Jersey Minority Educational Development’s “2018 Education Poll” rankings. This gross outpacing of tuition as compared to inflation is a huge problem for today’s students — particularly as college graduates’ wages are stagnating, according to the National Association of College and Employers.

Whitworth University, for example, has increased its tuition costs in the past twenty years even more than the national average. In 1998, the cost of a year’s tuition and fees at Whitworth University was $15,591, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Adjusted for inflation, that number becomes $23,385. For the current 2018-2019 school year, Whitworth’s Financial Aid “Cost & Payment Information” page lists tuition and fees at a whopping total of $43,640. Even adjusting for inflation, that’s an 86.6 percent increase in the cost of tuition and fees in the past 20 years.

This increase is particularly problematic when held up against Whitworth’s professed creed. The University’s website claims that students who attend will “become equipped to flourish and adapt in their professions, as informed citizens, and as fully engaged human beings.” And while the faculty and staff do everything in their power to stay true to that promise, graduates who leave with a crippling pile of debt are going to have a hard time flourishing. If Whitworth as an institution believes that a liberal arts education is “essential and relevant to all… careers,” then a nearly 90 percent increase in the cost of tuition has no place at this university.