Tuition Hike Bears Consequences for Oberlin’s Accessibility

Editorial Board

At the “Occu-party” on the grounds outside the Cox Administration Building last Friday afternoon, students protested the recently approved tuition hike for next year, asking, “Can you afford to stay silent?” The Board of Trustees recently approved a $2,400 increase in tuition for the 2015–2016 school year, detailed further in last week’s front page story (“Students Meet with Frandsen After Protests,” The Oberlin Review, May 1, 2015). The increase would disadvantage underprivileged communities, furthering the inaccessibility of an Oberlin education. Increasing sticker prices aren’t an Oberlin-specific phenomenon; tuition prices at public universities have quadrupled in the past 35 years, while average family income over the past decade has either stayed level or fallen. In President Marvin Krislov’s “President’s Desk Q&A” with Vice President of Finance Mike Frandsen, published in The Source on Wednesday, both Krislov and Frandsen said that the tuition increase was “the topic in higher education,” and Krislov added, “Everybody’s talking about it” (“President’s Desk Q&A: Mike Frandsen on Oberlin’s Tuition Increase”).

A recent New York Times op-ed by Paul Campos challenged the rationale used to excuse college tuition increases; according to the commonly understood explanation, tuition has increased because more people have flocked to higher education while state funding drastically decreased (“The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much,” The New York Times, April 4, 2015). Campos counters this narrative by pointing out that public funding has actually increased tenfold since 1960, and total state appropriation per student is much higher now than in the 1960s and 1970s.

Graduates leave four-year colleges with degrees but also a burdensome load of student debt. Even though the average financial aid discount for first-year students is 46 percent, about half of students will end up staying an extra semester or year to finish their degree requirements, and 45 percent of students will stay even longer. Most scholarships last only for the allotted four years, leaving students dependent on loans and family assistance for their extra semesters. Even financial aid, which might seem to unilaterally mitigate high tuition, often causes undue burdens, as student debt is beginning to outlive students themselves.

While Frandsen has offered opportunities to learn more about Oberlin’s finances, including the recent Source column, there is simply a limit to our ability to understand college management. No matter how many pie charts Frandsen shows us, the bottom line is that the increase is disturbing to students, including the members of the Editorial Board. Oberlin has the fourteenth highest sticker price in the country, and no number of transparency workshops can explain why. If tuition continues to increase, Oberlin’s resulting inaccessibility is unavoidable. Krislov’s hope that to face current and future financial challenges we “need to look for solutions both on the revenue side and on the cost side” is just not enough. We need to be coming up with those solutions now to stop the trend now. A long-term plan to slow down this increase isn’t doing anything to help the families that won’t be able to afford Oberlin next year.

At a time when college is becoming more and more necessary in a tougher job market, the rising cost is excluding students entirely or punishing them with lifelong debt. A 4-percent tuition increase is not a change the student body or the Editorial Board will condone, not this year and certainly not for every year after that.