The past quarter of a century has seen the price of attending college skyrocket. At Duke, what used to cost students around $10,000 now costs them six times as much. The rising cost of tuition is making it harder and harder for many people, even those who are academically qualified, to see an elite college as a viable option. Of course, options like financial aid and student loans exist, but, at the end of the day, $60,000 is still an astonishing figure for most students. That is why it may come as a shock to many Duke students to hear that, according to Executive Vice Provost of Finance and Administration Jim Roberts, the $60,000 price tag on a Duke education is actually a discount—In a recent article from National Public Radio, administrators at Duke claimed that the University actually invests $90,000 in the education of each student.
A large portion of this money goes to faculty. Duke spends a great deal of money recruiting talented faculty to the University, but many of these researchers only rarely or cursorily interact with undergraduates since they spend much of their time in labs and with graduate students. Administrators claim, nonetheless, that having excellent faculty and researchers indirectly benefits the average undergraduate. Critics, on the other hand, argue that the faculty who spend most of their time doing research do not offer much immediate value to the average undergraduate student. These critics contend that undergraduates are “subsidizing a giant educational edifice” with which they will barely come in contact.
We are inclined to agree with the critics. We are skeptical about the $90,000 figure and see its repeated citation as a reactionary measure from administrators, who, pressured by complaints about the rising cost of education, need to justify Duke’s formidable price tag. There are some expenses—such as the renovations to the library and dining facilities—that students ought to contribute to even if they do not benefit directly from them. But, when it comes to the bulk of the costs—paying faculty—the University should provide a more transparent accounting. If researchers do not contribute to the average undergraduate’s academic experience, costs associated with them should not be factored into the purported value of an undergraduate education.
But what do researchers do for Duke? Many argue that top-notch researchers increase the value of a Duke degree and help drive up our national ranking. They also claim that researchers attract promising students to the University, making the undergraduate experience better and the $90,000 figure justifiable. Although these appear intuitively to be correct assumptions, it is very difficult to determine the veracity of such claims, and, in any case, it is not appropriate to judge the worth of a college education in terms of such distant and speculative benefits to the student.
We would like to see undergraduates gain directly from the high price of attending Duke. We also request more transparent accounting of how our tuition dollars are spent. We ought to know how much, if any, of each student’s tuition is being spent on items that do not directly impact students and why.