Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

Tuition is going up. Again. For the past 10 years, Duke’s tuition has increased by about 4% each year with no stop in sight. A similar story can be told of most other colleges and universities. The administration claims that the hikes are offset but financial aid, but if that is the case, why not just decrease the tuition without adding to financial aid–to yield a lower number for prospective students to see?

It is a miraculous sight to encounter any American university decrease their tuition. It would seem that the bigger, better and “more” mantra applies fully to higher education. One of the most obvious, but perfectly valid reasons to point to is increased spending. Public and private universities are spending more for research initiatives, programs, highest-paid-basketball coaches, construction, and the list goes on. In fact, Duke is spending a hefty sum to pay for athletic expenses, an aspect that barely brushes the lives of the majority of Duke students (beyond school spirit).

And that is where the bulk of the problem lies. If it’s between having organic kale in the dining hall and lower tuition, most would choose the latter. If it’s between a gaming room and lower tuition, most (sensible) students would choose the latter. College is first and foremost an education institution. It is supposedly an investment in your skill so that in the future, that $xxx,xxx tuition would be worth something. It is also a place to enjoy oneself through new opportunities, which are not, funnily enough, the chance to party, but rather the expense paid abroad trips or internships acquired through networking.

In other words, institutions don’t need to keep making colleges some luxurious place and attract students based on the most amount of free stuff, plethora of food options, and other amenities that have no real bearing on the educational value.

Unfortunately, attempts to lower tuition have gone in vain. Perhaps that’s because none of the attempts have been extreme enough to trigger change. Or perhaps that’s because the people who are attending college can afford wealth management services and the expense and know that they will not drop out simply due to tuition hikes. Institutions are insidiously pushing the boundaries that students and their families are willing to accommodate. Unless the ability to stay in college were threatened by that 4% increase in tuition, nothing will happen. People will just accept it with some moans and groans, but ultimately be subdued by the inevitable.

Of course it is not as though people don’t care. Rather, the price of higher education has grown to elicit the same type of response that politics does–a jaded, cynical attitude convinced that the entity at hand will be the death of the country but has endured with it for such a long time that the effort to change anything would probably cost far more personally.  

To be honest, students like to hear that there’s a rock climbing wall and other well funded events just as they like to hear there are research opportunities led by professors with seemingly bottomless wallets (as provided by the school). However, it’s the amenities that are most conspicuous. If those are cut off, the loss is easily most visible to students who may not necessarily translate lower tuition to less amenities. Thus it’s a focused marketing ploy that colleges run to attract students on the surface level, but is is sustainable?

Probably not. But in response, a growing number of students have switched to trade schools to specialize in a practice rather than the go into the full college experience–freshman 15 and all. The only thing that might bring costs down is a mutual agreement to cut expenditure in a certain area that would very likely affect student living (or at least, their perception of their living circumstances).

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the author

Lucy Zhang attends Duke University and is majoring in electrical and computer engineering. Her passions include watching anime, sleeping, and writing the occasional article or two when productivity levels are high enough.

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