Tuition hike bodes poorly for students, Yale

It would take a stunning amount of sangfroid to look at next year’s cost of attendance and not gasp a little bit. As the News reported yesterday, Yale’s tuition, room and board will jump five percent next year to a massive $43,050 (“Tuition rises to $43,050,” 3/27). And while rising prices aren’t ever that surprising, somehow, this year, the two-grand hike and the University press statement surrounding it seem harsher than usual. At the risk of sounding the tiniest bit shrill or ungrateful, I want to point out a few things that are a bit off with a school I dearly love.

The University officers who spoke in Monday’s article cited many reasons similar to those mentioned in years past for this year’s price hike: inflation, construction costs, new financial aid policies and government cutbacks, not to mention the ever-blamable inflation. Somehow, the polished statements from Yale University President Richard Levin and University Provost Andrew Hamilton rang a little hollow this year, despite repeated insistence that this year’s increase is smaller than last year’s.

In citing new financial aid policies as one reason behind rising bills, the administration showed itself capable of tremendous hubris. By making the implicit claim that a new financial aid policy forced the University to ask for more from middle-class and wealthy families, President Levin and other administration members may have driven an unfortunate wedge between students on financial aid and students paying full fare.

These unfortunate statements may provide fuel to those who opine — publicly and privately — that better financial aid only increases the bill for others. A more cynical individual might even suggest the statement was meant to defuse some of the public pressure on the administration to make it easier for low- and middle-income families to attend Yale. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of Yale’s finances. But with $13 billion in the University’s coffers, to suggest that an increase in financial aid would necessitate others’ higher tuitions seems terribly disingenuous.

And as students on financial aid work increasingly hard for the very real benefits of their Yale education, families above the cut-off line for financial aid with other children in college or private school and coming from no massive wealth must wonder how Yale justifies tuition higher than the median annual American income. That our peer institutions — Harvard University, Princeton University, Brown University, University of Chicago and the others — do the same seems a rather ill-conceived rationale.

There’s also something a little disturbing in economics professor Fabian Lange’s suggestion in the article that “Yale students earn a premium that can be attributed to receiving a degree from Yale.” Professor Lange is correct in noting that the value of a Yale degree is no small asset, but I do hope he’s not suggesting the benefits of a Yale degree will merely be monetary. To look at Yale merely as an “investment,” or as something that pays off financial incentives later in life, devalues the meaning of a Yale education. The many Yalies who will enter lives of meaningful service, from non-profit work and work in the developing world, to journalism and teaching, may not ever see the premium in earnings Lange suggests. It seems harder, then, for one to look at those spiraling tuition costs in the same way one might look at a promising stock or bond.

Because I am a history major, some of the intricacies of the subject may elude me. But I wish that President Levin, Professor Lange or another economist could help explain why education’s costs have far outpaced national inflation. And more meaningfully, I wonder why Yale’s administration — conscious of its mammoth reputation and with a large pool of financial resources on which to draw — won’t be the first to buck the trend.

At heart, my frustration at next year’s tuition price, however predictable, is compounded by something that may underlie the administration’s statements on the hike. I would love to see Yale, for once in recent memory, be the first on something. In this case, they would say education needs to be affordable — and not just manageable or stomachable — for everybody. Wouldn’t it be heartening if Yale took a stand, bucked inflation and led education reform in a meaningful way?

It’s easy enough for Yale, with prestige almost unrivaled, to rest on its world-class reputation and massive endowment, and allow other universities to best it. But I would like to think Yale is doing its best to make sure students from all walks of life — poor, middle class, wealthy — can attend Yale for a cost at least somewhat less than the median American income. Yesterday’s News article didn’t do much to convince me.

As Yale looks towards a fourth century and hopes to make real change in the world, a courageous move once in a while would serve the University well. Saying no to inappropriately spiraling tuition costs and helping to make a wonderful education reasonable for everyone qualified for it might be a good start.

Ben Siegel is a junior in Morse College.