Last week, Penn announced it would raise tuition. Last year, Penn announced the same. And the year before that...and the year before that. In fact, Penn has raised tuition by 3.9% every year for the past ten years, with the exception of 2018 — when it raised tuition by 3.8%. Under the new tuition rate, Penn’s incoming class can expect to pay their school over $300,000 by the time they graduate. That is absurd. It is time for Penn to freeze tuition.
America is facing an unsustainable growth in the cost of higher education. The cost to attend college has increased, on average, eight times faster than wages have, and shows no significant signs of slowing down. Americans spend nearly twice as much on college each year as people in other developed countries do on average. Penn’s tuition has become one of the highest in the country, and the second-highest in the Ivy League, after Columbia. Yet Penn continues to raise tuition year after year in excess of the United States inflation rate, a growth in cost that is unsustainable. It is only a matter of time until it costs students six figures for just two semesters of a Penn undergraduate education.
Penn does offer extensive financial aid. However, this creates a class of students who must rely on the generosity of an institution to merely attend it. I doubt you will find many students on financial aid who would prefer to continue relying on aid in favor of a world in which tuition costs were not as crushingly high to begin with.
Additionally, if Penn’s goal in raising tuition is to take in more funds, it faces a problem: raising tuition also increases the aid Penn must pay out, especially since tuition increases in excess of wage increases will result in more families requiring aid in the long run. Thus, Penn is not just incentivized, but financially mandated, to attract and admit enough students from wealthy families to essentially subsidize the deficit of aiding the rest of the student population that cannot afford full tuition. There’s nothing wrong with admitting wealthy students, but Penn should be able to focus on providing its resources to the students who will benefit from it the most, instead of being financially beholden to those who benefit the least.
One might argue that Penn’s tuition is worth it: you get what you pay for. But am I really getting an education that is ten times better than that at a public university? I would emphatically argue no. The best justification for Penn’s exorbitant cost is that it will boost our future earning power enough to make it worth it. While this is probably true, it is a deeply cynical way to look at higher education. After all, elite institutions themselves will never claim to just be a very expensive line item for your resume. Penn employs lofty rhetoric about creating leaders for society and changing the world when it courts students, and this above all is what colleges should strive to do.
The truth is, I do not want to live in a world where students owe Penn over a quarter of a million dollars for their post-secondary education. Freezing tuition at its current rate for the next few years may seem radical, but to me, it is the only way to stem an unsustainable tide. Penn has been a leader in the world of higher education before, and it has a chance to be a leader again. It’s time for one of our country’s most prestigious institutions to take bold steps to change American college education for the better.
TYLER LARKWORTHY is an Engineering junior from McLean, Va. studying Computer Science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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