A student skateboards in front of Beardshear Hall on Monday. With the weather staying above 50 degrees this week, many students are choosing other forms of transportation and spending more time outdoors.

To begin with, I’m not sure how many of you will read this, as you should be studying for finals. Yes I’m talking to you. If that doesn’t deter you, I want to talk about tuition/fees at ISU.

Last semester there was a protest outside one of my classrooms. They were protesting the tuition plan approved by the Board of Regents to increase tuition by 3 percent. At the time, I was more frustrated with the protesters, as they blocked the buses and stalled traffic. Thinking on it now, however, perhaps they were on to something. This article is prompted by the email we all received from President Wintersteen. In this email, she essentially said that pending state funding, undergrad tuition could increase as much as 3.9 percent and graduate tuition by 4.9 percent. I would briefly like to talk about this proposal and share some statistics here.

I understand there are many factors that go into cost of college, many of which I’m sure I haven’t thought of. Nevertheless, my aim here is to show that this is a constant struggle ISU students have had to face for decades.  

Lets spend some time looking at the tuition changes from 2001-2018. While I’m sure we would all like tuition to remain constant, this is just not feasible due to inflation. However, comparing tuition rates to inflation rates year by year shows that tuition has consistently increased more than inflation. The most recent years for inflation, 2017 and 2018 show an increase in 2.14 percent and 2.44 percent respectively. Compare that to the tuition increases of 3.51 percent and 4.06 percent. While that discrepancy may not seem like a lot, lets put it into perspective. In 2001, tuition was $3,132, while it is now $8,636, almost three times more! However, compared to inflation, that same amount would only become $4,498.  This begs the question, why is tuition increasing by so much more than inflation?

In response to ISU not receiving the funding they requested from the state, President Wintersteen remarked in her email that “the state is not doing its part and is shifting the burden to our students and their families”.  She then brings up the fact that state funding this year is $20 million less than in the year 2000 ($171 compared to $193 million). This seems to imply that tuition increases would be minimal if there were more state funding. However, in the years 2008 and 2009, when state funding was the highest ($205 and $212 million), tuition rates still increased on average by 2.9 percent compared to the inflation rate of 1.75 percent.  

In conclusion, I do not believe the constant and extreme rise in tuition can be explained simply by lack of funding. In fact, we seem to have a spending problem here at ISU, and unless that is changed, tuition is on track to be $22,000+ by the year 2040. As prospective parents, would we really be able to pay for that?

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Letter to the Editor Submission Link

(1) comment

Steve Gregg

I graduated from Iowa State in 1977. We were on the quarter system then, instead of the semester system, with three quarters instead of two semesters per year. Each quarter costs $330 for room & board in the dorms plus $220 for tuition. That’s $550 per quarter. Back then, books could cost as much as a whopping $45 each! Let’s say a quarter’s worth of books cost $200. All together, a quarter cost $750. Three quarters composing an academic year cost $2250. I paid myself twenty bucks per week for fun, $800 per year. So, a year at Iowa State cost me $3050. Four years for a degree cost $12,200.

A 1977 buck is worth $4.22 in 2019 dollars. That means the $12,200 I paid for a BS in Psychology from Iowa State in 1977 is equivalent to $51,446 today. Iowa State says that a degree today costs $86,432. That means that an ISU degree today costs $34,985 more today in equivalent dollars than in 1977, 42 years ago. That’s 68% more, or 2/3, or 2.5 years of 1977 tuition more.

By an odd coincidence, that extra $35 grand you’re overpaying for your Iowa State education is roughly the amount of debt with which most students graduate. Thirty-five thousand dollars would be enough for you to buy a brand spanking new Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic with enough left over to put a down payment on a home. Instead, you are yoked to a big school loan that will push back marriage, buying a home, and having kids into your thirties.

Oh, by the way, you’ll be paying 4.53% interest on that giant federal school loan. For a $30,000 loan paid off over ten years, that’s $6795 in interest, the final insult. That would have bought you an old used jalopy, at least. Instead, you’ll be driving those Reeboks where ever you want to go. Hopefully, you’ll be able to afford shoelaces.

I don’t think that the universities will stop raising their prices until people refuse to pay them. As long as people will pay anything for a college education, colleges will be happy to bleed you dry. Raising the price of college is particularly easy when you get the money now and don’t need to start paying it back for four years. So, I believe this model of college will continue until it cannot. After all, something that can’t go on, won’t.

I believe that the current financial model of college is suicidal. Colleges raising tuition to the moon while remaining indifferent to the quality of their product is a product that is driving itself to extinction. Such a trajectory is opening the education market for competition. Perhaps, artificial intelligence and holographs are the future of education, in which courses will be created by entrepreneurs and sold to corporations who deliver the classes in your personal home holodeck. However, traditional college is pricing itself out of the reach of its market. It is doomed because it is not providing value for its cost to its customers.

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