A continuous rise in tuition decreases Rice's overall value
There is an old New Mexican folk story about three chupacabras who encounter three goats. The first chupacabra bites off a goat's head, rips its legs off and sucks out its blood. The second chupacabra rips off another goat's head and then sucks out its blood. The third chupacabra tells the final goat, "You should say thank you; I am only going to suck out your blood."
This week, Rice goes through its annual tradition of increasing tuition and yet again the administration tells us how we should be thankful that we are still cheaper than other schools. Simply because other schools are ridiculously overpriced does not mean the administration is in the right. The idea that Rice tuition should be affordable is neither original nor new. The original Rice charter explicitly said that education should be free of charge. While everyone on campus knows of the infamous prank in 1988 that turned Willy's statue away from the Sallyport, few know that it was in response to an increase in tuition from $5,300 to $6,100.
Those sums of money seem like spare change compared to today's costs. Tuition has now increased to $36,610. This does not even include the housing and dining costs, which have increased to $12,600. Even more startling is that in 2003 tuition cost $18,850.
There are numerous rationalizations for these costs. One is due to increasing costs. However, I am incredulous that costs have doubled in ten years. Furthermore, institutions of higher education hardly cover many of their expenses with undergraduate tuition. The administration's claims ring hollow after our vast endowment increased from $3.787 to $4.451 billion in this year alone. Furthermore, if our school is hurting financially they are surely not showing it in expenses. This year Leebron said that the rising cost of food was one of the main reasons to raise the costs for Housing and Dining. I enjoy the servery's fancy meat-carving stations and perhaps the odd slushy from the new Parrot-Ice machine, but perhaps H&D should reduce its purchases of unnecessary luxuries instead of requiring students and their families to shell out more money.
Another reason that I have heard bandied about is that undergraduate education is a "Giffen good" — a good whose demand increases with price. This argument says that if Rice charged less for tuition, then students would feel it is worth less. However, at the same time, Rice also advertises itself as a "Best Value" school. Students already choose Rice because of its many strengths, not its sticker price. Reducing tuition would not decrease demand, but increase it as more people can afford to come here.
While it is impossible to know why Rice decided to raise tuition, I am sure it was a complex decision with several factors. However, it seems to me that the main reason for these hikes is to make us more like the Ivy League institutions we so badly wish to emulate. The Rice administration has consistently been trying to make Rice more like the Harvard of the South. One only needs to look at the "Harvard: because everyone can't come to Rice" T-shirts as proof of their (and purportedly our) deep-seated inferiority complex. By raising tuition we can "compete" and not only look more like these institutions, but also justify some of the purchases made to aid us in the arms race of top tier schools trying to look like resorts. While trying to catch up to the best in the country is not always a bad thing, Rice must be careful not to lose its soul.
Much like the schools we now resemble in price, our generous financial aid allows for poor families to send their children to school, but those kids who are too rich to qualify but too poor to afford the steep sticker price fall through. Many of these students are more qualified than those who get in to the school, but decide to not to apply or attend because of financial realities. Some of these kids might actually come to Rice anyway, but they graduate with steep loans that will prove a huge disadvantage as they go out into the real world. The middle income students that we want to attract, but who suffer under the increases, would come to Rice regardless of the Parrot-Ice flavors, a fancy Rec Center or a status-gratifying tuition bill. By raising tuition we might increase our coffers, but in losing these potential students we are undeniably poorer.
Not too long ago this school offered tuition rates that most Americans could pay. It is time for us to get back to these values and embrace the "unconventional wisdom" that a world-class education should be affordable for all.
Anthony Lauriello is a Wiess College junior and the Thresher Backpage Editor
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