March 6, 2007

Skorton Introduces Monthly Radio Show

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Think you are paying too much to go to Cornell? Well you are not alone. President David Skorton, in the premiere of his monthly radio show, Higher Ed in the Rounds, discussed the issue of rising tuition costs at the university level.

Skorton’s new show, broadcast throughout central New York, is meant to highlight problems with university education and ways to fix them.

“We are all part of the community, and the community has an important role to play in what we’re doing. The call-in show offers an ideal way of building the kind of dialogue we want to have.”

Along with guests Peggy Williams, president of Ithaca College, and Carl Haynes, president of Tompkins Cortland Community College, Skorton brought to light a key issue facing higher education — that tuition keeps rising while faculty feel they are underpaid.

“You can’t freeze the costs of education,” said Williams. “We are trying to provide a quality experience, and that’s not inexpensive.”

Haynes mentioned that people tend to compare tuition costs to what is going on in the consumer market. The fact that tuition increases outpace increase in the Consumer Price Index is a source of concern to many.
Skorton brought up financial aid as one solution to the problem.

“You have to look at the difference between the sticker price [of attending college] and what you actually pay,” he said.
He emphasized that 42 percent of students at Cornell receive some kind of financial aid.

“20 years ago you could complete a college education without incurring debt. The federal policy of shifting the burden of education from taxpayers to families has made it harder,” Williams said.

This show topic comes just a month after the Board of Trustees approved a plan to raise the tuition for Cornell’s endowed colleges by 5.5 percent and by 5.8 percent for contract colleges. Room and board fees rose by 4.5 percent.
Skorton took a number of phone calls throughout his hour on the air.

Among them was one staff member who complained about what he claimed to be “the caste system” at Cornell. He said that he has received minimal raises while the cost of living has skyrocketed. He struggles to save enough money so that his own daughter can go to college.

Though Skorton responded by saying that he is still new to Cornell and has much to learn about the University, he added that he would “follow up on this category tomorrow.”

He encouraged the staff member to e-mail him so that he could pursue the issue further.

Other callers discussed the role of universities in the community, the impact of new technology on education and ways in which universities can level the admissions playing field between those who can afford tutoring and those who can’t.
While the three presidents on the show each represent very different institutions, they all agreed that something must be done to limit costs.

“Somehow in the past years, we’ve lost our way,” Williams said.

One idea generated from the discussion is to pressure donors to the University to provide the money for both students and faculty to be satisfied.