Cost of college a cycle of cost

Shane Wade

Opinion Editor

What do students look for when they apply to VCU, besides the usual fanfare of campus clubs and academics? Quality of the teaching faculty, campus aesthetics and most importantly, tuition rate.

At VCU’s latest town hall budget meeting, university officials announced that the unofficial annual tuition increase might be 5.5 percent for in-state students next academic year. Although VCU remains one of the most affordable universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, at an average in-state tuition cost of $7,600, any increase will be unwelcomed.

Unfortunately, students should be becoming accustomed to it.

These cost hikes occur every year, whether through tuition or fees. Likewise, the cost of attending college in the United States has increased annually, from 2-4 percent, according to the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. This increase can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including inflation, spending by colleges and declining federal, state and local government support.

The cycle of increase has yet another cyclical effect on both universities and students: The more we pay for college, the more we’ll expect out of it. That’s how logic and expectations work; when one expends a certain amount of effort, whether it be financial or physical, one can reasonably assume an equivalent or greater than reward for said efforts.

But that logic doesn’t always apply to all aspects of the world.

As tuition increases, the nearly 20 million Americans that attend college every year will naturally be expecting their institutions to provide better services, better faculty and better buildings.

Prospective families and students won’t care about university expenditures or state budgetary cuts increasing the cost they’ll pay for coming here; they’ll see the price tag and want to know what they’re paying for. The tens of thousands they spend in tuition while earning the now-standard bachelor’s degree should, in their justifiable perception, provide them with a certain standard. People have a certain expectation of value and if it’s not met, they’ll complain.

The proof is in the media. VCU students, dissatisfied by an unsuccessful class registration, will take to Twitter to complain about paying tuition, but are unable to register for classes they need. In August, a University of Richmond student wrote to their student newspaper, The Collegian, to express they’re “extremely disappointed with the university’s decision to stop providing academic planners to students this year.” Researchers at the University of California found that a full third of surveyed students “expected Bs just for attending lectures.”

To satisfy their self-entitled student-consumer populace, as well as entice future alumni donations, university officials will strive to meet those expectations.

In other words, the cost of college increases because the cost of college increases; the first increase comes naturally, as a reaction to state cuts, but the second increase comes artificially, as consumers react to that high cost.

Today, we’re paying almost four times more for a higher education than our parents did. Because of distractions like construction projects and sports teams, we’ve shifted our thinking about college from being a stepping stone to future careers to high school, part two. We allow and encourage our schools to buy and build their way to academic and institutional status and prestige.

We’re growing, but are we growing in the right direction?

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