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Last week, the University Board of Trustees quietly raised the price of your education by nearly $2,000 a year. You probably didn't notice the change, since rising costs have become an all-too-familiar part of the college experience. Tuition and student fees at Penn, after all, have increased dramatically over the past few decades. And while those hikes have been hefty -- putting the cost of a Penn education well beyond the $30,000 mark -- they have usually been in line with increases at comparable institutions. But this year's increase, while expected, is particularly troubling. It's troubling, for one, because of its size. The 4.9 percent increase -- while modest over the University's recent history -- is the largest tuition hike in five years, and outpaces the 3.9 percent average annual increase over that same period. If tuition rates continue to rise at that rate -- and no indications exist to the contrary -- then student fees at the University will soon eclipse the point of sheer feasibility. Most students, even the most well-off, simply won't be able to fund the investment that is a Penn education. That in itself is troubling, but the problem is even compounded because the University may also soon find itself at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to financial aid. University administrators claim that the top prospective students -- those looking for the high-quality education that the University offers -- won't be dissuaded by Penn's higher prices. And they say that financial aid packages, as usual, should soon reflect the greater obligation -- thus lessening the proportional burden for those students in need. Proportions aside, though, the net contibution of each Penn student -- those on and financial aid and not -- is destined to rise. And that kind of rise may ultimately drive some potential students to other universities, especially those that have recently made wholesale changes to their financial aid programs. Now is the time for this community -- administrators, Trustees and students alike -- to re-evaluate Penn's tuition structure and establish a plan for realistic student funding over the coming years. If students here aren't to receive aid packages comparable to those of students at Harvard, Princeton and other endowment-heavy universities, then a separate strategy must be devised to keep costs down and retention up. Doing otherwise leaves the door open for unchecked further tuition increases. And worse, it puts the quality of Penn's future student body in jeopardy.

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