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Credit: Felicity Yick

On Feb. 28, 2019, Penn’s Board of Trustees approved a 3.9% increase in the cost of attendance for the next academic year, increasing the total cost of tuition, fees, and room and board for the 2019 - 2020 academic year. 

This increase amounts to a total cost $73, 960, up from last academic year’s $71,200 tally. This bump fits the larger trend of an increasing cost of attendance at Penn. For the past nine years, total costs for Penn undergraduate students have steadily increased by an average of nearly 4% each year

Each year Penn’s Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition, yet each year there is no thorough or proper explanation provided. Given that the rise in cost of attendance directly impacts students and inflicts potentially long-lasting consequences, Penn must be more transparent in justifying the decisions to increase costs. 

There are many reasons why institutions choose to increase tuition. One is due to the basic theory of supply and demand, where the sheer number of people attempting to receive a college education outnumbers available spots. Another could be from having to increase budgets for faculty and on-campus student services. 

An article in The Atlantic suggests possible long-term operating expenses for “tangential jobs that may have more to do with attracting students than with learning” as another reason for increasing tuition. 

But what, exactly, is Penn’s reason for annually increasing our tuition? 

The short answer? We don’t really know. There are several possible reasons for why Penn chooses to increase tuition year after year, but that information isn’t easily accessible or at least published to the larger Penn community. 

Every time a new report is issued on annual increasing costs, it seems as though these numbers are derived arbitrarily and presented to students without any sort of input or explanation. Funding breakdowns, resource allocations, factors considered, the individuals involved when deciding the cost of attendance and whether or not to increase tuition all seem to be deep secrets Penn is desperately trying to hide. 

As the ones who pay the price for Penn’s lack of transparency, it is reasonable that Penn’s students should be better informed about these decisions that may shape their financial futures years after graduating. 

This is not a trend unique to Penn. At other Ivies, despite having vastly different endowments and different geographical locations, the schools still regularly increase tuition at approximately the same rate.  

This effectively amounts to what some believe is price–fixing, or “an agreement (written, verbal, or inferred from conduct) among competitors that raises, lowers, or stabilizes prices or competitive terms." The potential for antitrust issues arises among higher education institutions who might have the ability to share information in order to fix prices. 

In fact, in 1991, the Justice Department even brought a lawsuit against the Ivy League schools for anti-competitive practices in tuition. Clearly, there is room for misuse of funds and price–setting practices by many universities, not just Penn.

Penn's trend of constantly raising the overall cost of attendance for undergraduates is particularly frustrating because students are often unaware of where these figures come from. 

As the ones paying the bill, it seems only right that students receive at least more information and price transparency on how and why these decisions were made. Receiving thorough reports and a say in the tuition fees will allow Penn undergrads and families to approach the financing of their education with more autonomy and dignity, as opposed to being kept in the dark.

Credit: Alec Druggan

LARK YAN is a College sophomore from Toledo, Ohio studying Health and Societies. Her email address is larkyan@sas.upenn.edu

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