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Despite inflation decline, tuition is still too damn high

By Jennifer SifferlenColumnist

The cost of higher education has been rising faster than the cost of everything else. In the last decade, public universities have “raised tuition and fees at almost three times the inflation rate,” according to John Hechinger of Bloomberg Businessweek.

The load of tuition payments has grown harder and harder for students and families to bear. An Associated Press-Viacom poll suggests that the high cost of attendance is the biggest factor in the decision to forgo a college education or to dropout just shy of graduation.

The rate at which tuition inflates, however, may be on the decline. Tuition for public colleges is seeing its “smallest rise in three decades, according to the annual College Board reports on trends in pricing and aid” said The New York Times’ Tamar Lewin.

This slowing of tuition inflation could lead to an influx of public university applicants down the road, as incoming college students may flock to more economical education options. Thus, if this slow-down persists, private institutions may also be affected.

If incoming students start choosing public alternatives en masse, schools like Hofstra may be forced to adjust prices in order to stay competitive in the higher education market.

But these market-driven decreases would be unlikely to set in for some time. It could take years before the drop in applicants put enough pressure on the administration to lower prices, or even to impede their buildup. Current students would be unlikely to see any changes during their time at Hofstra.

Just one year of a slow-down could be too small to tell if a decline in tuition inflation will last.  While this may be the start of a new pattern of tuition trends, this year could be merely an outlier.

Whether or not inflation decline endures, the affordability of higher education must be achieved. In today’s hyper-competitive job market, where even bachelor’s degrees might not be enough to get a foot in the door, a college education is key to social mobility. If an education is not attainable for all income brackets, the disparity of wealth in this country will only grow.

The sticker price of a school is not always what students end up paying out-of-pocket, however. Pell grants, assistance for low-income students, can offset tuition payments. Funding for the Pell grants has “declined in the last two years,” said Lewin.

Individual academic institutions can offset tuition costs as well. With merit- and need-based aid, some students end up paying prices far from the original. Financial aid is an especially large factor in determining the true price of admission here at Hofstra. According to the university’s website, an average of 80 percent of students qualify for some kind of financial aid.

Scholarships, though, do not change from year to year as tuition does. In this regard, one could argue that the true cost of admission is rising at that much steeper of an incline. Financial aid packages are instrumental in offsetting cost, but outside scholarships may become increasingly more important in order to cover the rise in tuition.

A long-term decline in the rate of college tuition inflation would be welcome and long-awaited news, but one instance alone does not necessarily mean that a new pattern is emerging. This slow-down in the rise of public tuition costs is certainly not bad news—more affordable education options are always something to strive for—but it may very well have little to no impact on current Hofstra students.

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