January 25, 2012

The Costly State of Higher Education

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Just a few days after the Board of Trustees approved yet another increase on student tuition, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address as an opportunity to take aim at the untenable cost of higher education. In his speech to the nation, President Obama put colleges and universities “on notice,” calling for these institutions to offer more affordable opportunities to all Americans or face diminished contributions from government funding. At the same time, ensuring the availability of a Cornell education to the most qualified applicants demands an aggressive financial aid program that avoids cumbersome tuition hikes. The University — a primary beneficiary of taxpayer dollars through its contract colleges and federal aid programs — must find other means to provide substantial financial aid without letting the burden fall solely on the student population.

As The Sun reported Tuesday, New York state residents in the contract colleges — the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations — will see their tuition rise by 7.4 percent for the coming fall semester due in part to diminished state funding. All other students will see costs increase at four to five percent.

Half of the funds resulting from the increased cost of tuition will be appropriated toward the admirable initiative of providing more financial aid for students in need. President David Skorton has aggressively pursued making attendance at the University affordable throughout his tenure, and we expect that his administration will continue to champion this worthy cause. Education continues to serve as a means to develop the tools necessary to start on a pathway to success, as well as a broader appreciation of learning.

However, supporting economically disadvantaged students should not come about primarily through tuition hikes that will cause a number of students to suffer. While there may be students whose families are unaffected by the steady increase in the cost of attending Cornell, many students who could previously meet the obligation may soon be unable to keep up with the escalating tuition. In fact, the number of students receiving financial aid has increased by nearly 2,900 over the last two and a half years, according to the University. At this rate, it is inevitable that the consistently rising tuition may soon be unsustainable for a portion of the Cornell community.

President Obama provided fair warning Tuesday night that institutions continuing to increase tuition will see diminished federal funding. It is imperative that the University takes notice of the President’s declaration as it works toward preserving the value of a Cornell education at a reasonable price.