Shifting rising tuition costs into reverse

Photo by Carlos Ayala

There is a saying that I am rather fond of—paying for college is like buying a brand-new car every year and driving it off a cliff.

For the 2012-2013 school year, out-of-state students paid around $27,000 for tuition. This is roughly the price of a new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. This is far better than the BMW 3-series you would need to destroy to pay for Harvard, and I suppose in-state students only need to sacrifice a high-end scooter to pay the approximately $10,000, but I can’t help but think there’s something wrong with this wanton destruction of motor vehicles.

According to Southern Regional Education Board’s data, in 1986, out-of-state tuition and fees at Tech cost only $5,007, worth about $11,000 today. This trend is not encouraging.

Earlier this year, CollegeBoard, makers of the SAT and AP tests, released a report called Trends in College Pricing. In the report, the authors analyze tuition and fee data from thousands of universities. Among their many findings they note that “published college prices have been rising more rapidly than the prices of other goods and services over the entire time period documented here.” Data from four-year public universities show that tuition and fees now are 331% of what they were in the 1983-1984 school year. College affordability is going of a cliff—so to speak.

Rising college tuition has triggered concerns on both sides of the political spectrum. President Obama expressed concern about soaring pricing saying that “it’s getting harder and harder for students to be able to afford that college education.” In the same speech, the president outlined his proposal to create a federal college ranking system to determine federal aid, arguing that “we need to stop subsidizing schools that are not getting good results.”

The University System of Georgia has also acknowledged the problem. In their Strategic plan, the Board of Regents notes that “concerns about affordability are greater than ever” and that promises that USG will maintain its longstanding commitment to collegiate access, affordability and value.

Tech is an excellent university; if it were not, students wouldn’t wantonly wreck so many vehicles to pay for it. The trend of rising tuition is a national one, so Tech is not entirely at fault for rising prices, but costs are rising far too fast for students. With initiatives such as the online Computer Science Masters Degree, Tech has shown that it is willing to experiment with new delivery formats for higher education, and the administration should take that further. It shouldn’t be a follower in the industry, resigning itself to increase tuition more and more every year. Tech should be a leader, finding new ways of delivering high-quality education at lower costs. We need to start soon, or pretty soon Corvettes and Ferraris will be staring down the cliff.