It happens every year around this time – students check their mailboxes to find their annual tuition increase waiting for them in an innocuous white envelope.
The aftermath is also annually predictable. There’s about a week of bitter complaining; then students move on with the semester. And the overwhelming majority return the following year, in spite of the extra few thousand they are spending for the privilege.
It’s easy to stand back and throw rocks at the system, especially when it hurts your wallet (which, in all likelihood, is already in a lot of pain). Students should be aware, however, that the issue is complex. And while annual tuition increases are irritating, and while they are not the only solution to the increasing costs of higher education, they aren’t completely outlandish, either.
Admittedly, a Whitworth education is expensive. There’s a convincing argument to be made that it’s worth the price (this year’s massive freshman class, coming in at a time when money is difficult to be had, underscores this point). But while the pocketbook drain is extensive, it’s also competitive with other institutions comparable to Whitworth.
Most private colleges increase their tuition annually to the tune of 4 to 5 percent (on par with Whitworth’s average yearly increase). A few are trying alternative methods of fighting the changing economy – Sewanee: The University of the South cut tuition by 10 percent for next year. It is the only private university in the nation to actually cut tuition. A handful of other institutions have frozen tuition increases, but no others have decreased.
Some other institutions also offer a locked-in tuition rate, where students pay the same amount for the length of their time at the university (in other words, you pay the same as a senior as you did as a freshman). It’s not a bad system, but it does come with problems. Perhaps the biggest problem is that annual increases for new freshmen are higher than they would be with a variable tuition system like Whitworth practices. Currently, the cost you pay your first year is kept lower by the higher prices older students are paying relative to their first years.
The purpose of this editorial is not to throw water or fuel on the flames of the tuition debate; rather, it is to educate students briefly on the complexities of the problem. And the bottom line is this: Whitworth’s system is working financially. While the tuition increases do result in a few students having to leave every year, the fact is that the incoming class is larger every year, and Whitworth is financially healthier than many of its peers. Until those factors change, it’s going to be difficult to convince administrators to fix what doesn’t appear to be broken.