Last year, Sarah Lawrence College in New York became the first U.S. undergraduate institution to charge over $60,000 for attendance. The trend of astronomical college costs is hardly confined to the Northeast, however; if it continues on its current trajectory, the cost of a Knox education will soon surpass the $50,000 mark. In the face of a $1.2 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, Knox could certainly use the extra revenue. Yet the tuition problem is reflective of Knox’s larger issue of how best to manage limited resources. Students have expectations, and they should get what they pay for — but at the $50,000 mark, this may not be possible in Knox’s current state, and sharp tuition increases may be more detrimental than helpful.
First, some numbers. For the 2013-2014 academic year, the total cost of a Knox education, including fees, room and board, will be $47,352, according to the Knox website. Knox traditionally has low tuition costs compared to many of its peers in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest: for the 2012-2013 academic year, Knox’s tuition, room, board and fees added up to $44,424, while the ACM average was $46,557.50. Regardless of this, the jump to $47,352 is not a small one. It is not far from there to the $50,000 mark, which carries with it the stigma of an exceptional college experience — something that is worth shelling out about the equivalent of what the average American makes in a year.
We do not mean to suggest that a Knox education is not exceptional; that adjective certainly describes our experiences, and we would venture that many other Knox students would apply it to theirs as well. But the fact remains that those colleges that charge $50,000 or more (in the ACM, this currently includes Carleton, Grinnell and Macalester) usually boast state-of-the-art facilities and a vast network of resources for students. Knox, on the other hand, has not built a new building in decades and the Career Center and Center for Research and Advanced Study are staffed by one or two people, respectively. These are just a few of dozens of examples of where Knox tries to make do with less, and it is an admirable thing. Having shiny new buildings does not equal a good education. Still, we do not have the facilities and services that have come to be expected of $50,000-a-year institutions.
The question inevitably arises of whether prospective students will see Knox’s price tag and feel that it is justified. Unfortunately, we believe that they will not. A proportional increase in financial aid could help balance rising costs, but Knox’s resources are already stretched thin. The introduction of a small number of full-tuition scholarships for high academic achievers in next year’s incoming class is a good step, but it is unclear whether this will help the first-generation and low-income students that Knox has traditionally attracted. If financial aid does not increase with tuition, Knox will likely see a less economically diverse student body, and our profile compared to our peer institutions may seem less and less attractive to prospective students from all walks of life.
The alternative option — more severe cuts in college operations — would potentially be no less detrimental. This is not a problem with an easy solution, and tuition is just one of many areas Knox will have to consider as it addresses its budget shortfall. But it is one of the most visible to students, and while it is difficult to apply a price to something as intangible as the value of education, that is exactly what colleges attempt to do. We urge the administration to keep tuition under $50,000 for at least the next five years, during which they must demonstrate how rising costs are being accompanied by an improved Knox experience. If future students will get the same for $50,000 that current Knox students are getting for considerably less, hikes in tuition simply cannot be justified.
TKS will be writing extensively about Knox’s budgetary issues this term, and we encourage students to send letters to the editor to express their opinions on this important topic. Letters should be submitted to Discourse editor Samantha Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.