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The (Hidden) Cost of College

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Graduation season is in full swing and college is just around the corner for high school grads. But with continued budget cuts on campus and skyrocketing tuition, things will be tighter than ever before for these eager young students.

In a climate where one out of fifteen people are unemployed and financial aid is at a premium, it's understandable that the cost of attending a college or university has become a hot button issue.
Recently, CNN dedicated an entire series to this exact issue, zeroing in on the financial hardships and strain a four-year degree carries, not only for families, but students as well. Interestingly, while commentators and parents spent a great deal of time bemoaning the situation, they failed to mention that while the majority of schools and universities were raising tuition (while implementing classroom furloughs and early retirement packages for professors), some weren't cutting the fat where it counted: in administrative salaries, unnecessary construction projects, and pricey bureaucratic systems that don't elevate the level of learning and resources available even when tuition costs outpace that of the average American salary.

Take for example the recent trend of luxury dorms on campus. It is still unclear why colleges such as Boston University, Purdue, and Arizona State University felt the need to fete a small concentration of well-to-do students in domiciles equipped with "walk-in closets, private bathrooms, personal climate control panels, maid service, hot tubs and tanning booths." Did the millions spent to build these deluxe digs outweigh the need to expand educational programs and services, update existing structures, and invest in technology?

The same question holds true for those within the top-tier of said schools. When The Wall Street Journal published an article last November listing the highest paid college presidents in the country, eyebrows were raised when it became clear the majority were making well over six figures a year (some, like Yale's Richard Levin were almost at the million dollar mark). Adding salt to the wound was the fact that many of these same colleges and universities raised their
tuition in 2009 to cover their operational costs. (Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley has since launched an inquiry into the matter).

The irony here is even if the cost of college (OR expensive spending behind the scenes by the institutions themselves) isn't an issue for you, there's no guarantee the money you
scrimped and saved to put your child through the best school is even going to good use. Behind the top rankings and splashy publicity campaigns lies a bureaucratic system so flawed, even a $50,000 yearly price tag can't guarantee the finest education available. Notes one student blogger:

"One of my best friend's from high school is a sophomore at NYU, the number three most expensive university at $51,993 for the 2009-2010 school year. When I asked her to speculate about the value of her education, she made it clear that she loved her school and appreciated being able to attend school in the center of one of the most dynamic cities in the world. However, she did voice some frustrations about administrative delays and the difficulty of class enrollment. The lottery system in place at NYU makes it difficult to take all the classes you would like, at the time you would like, each semester."

Isn't it time we shifted our focus away from HOW to pay for college and instead started to probe WHY it costs so much to begin with? Should we wait until our educational system faces the same financial collapse and ruin as Wall Street before we start asking serious questions and demand a system of checks and balances be put into place?

After all, it's not just the actual cost of college we should be worried about -- it's the hidden cost nobody wants to talk about that may end up hurting future generations of students to come.

 
 
 

Follow Christie Garton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@UniversityChic