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Tuition hike needs justification

Have plans for a big spring break? Well, let me ask you this--what would you do if you had an extra $1,000? By my calculations, that could cover a week in Europe, including airfare. It would be enough for a seven-day Caribbean cruise for both you and your best friend. You could drop over $100 a day for the entire break at home with high school buddies. Saving the $1,000 now could provide some of you with real freedom over the summer, and donating it to a soup kitchen could feed hundreds of people. Why do I ask?

Because, I would like to point out that you don't have an extra $1,000, or at least you won't this time next year. For those who may have missed the announcement amidst the scramble of midterms in the last few weeks, the trustees of Duke University have decided to raised tuition over $1,000 for next year. That's right, an increase of 4 percent in tuition and mandatory fees. I should note for the economics majors that inflation stands at a meager 1.14 percent and, thus, this increase is very real indeed.

On the evening news my family watched when I was growing up, there was a weekly segment called "The Fleecing of America," which documented different ways in which the American people were being deprived of their hard-earned money by the government, corporations and others. I have often thought that The Chronicle would benefit from a weekly section, perhaps next to the crime blotter, which describes the ways in which money was "fleeced" from students in the previous seven days on campus. I have great confidence that this section would never be lacking for material.

I can hardly do justice in describing the ways this University financially abuses students; but let me attempt a beginning. All on-campus residents are forced to buy meal plans, food points or a combination of the two, which then oblige them to purchase food at exorbitant prices on campus. Freshmen have it worst of all, as the Marketplace charges them close to $10 per meal, whether they make it or not. Housing on Duke's campus is conspicuously more expensive than off-campus locations, yet soon all students will be held to a three-year housing commitment.

Parking is also expensive, not to mention distant; and the most alarming bit of information to come out of this Duke Student Government election was that the price of parking permits may double next year to finance the construction of a parking garage, which current students will never get to use. The parking enforcement is arbitrary, often intolerant of legitimate appeals, and exorbitant fines are issued. The parking issue has been satirized by the Blazing Sea Nuggets nicely, though sadly much of its humor derives from its truth. In a few months, the bookstore will buy back $100 textbooks for a really small fraction of that price, and most students will leave school never having seen an equal return on their mandatory health and programming fees. This whole scene makes for a good economics paper on monopolies but cuts deep into the pocketbooks of students.

Consider again the tuition increase. Provost Peter Lange and other administrators say it is needed, and few would doubt that there are a number of resources that could use improvement at the University. However, Duke has not proven a good steward of student financial interests in the past, and increases of this magnitude--never mind how bad they have been in previous years--should draw scrutiny and require detailed justification. Bureaucratic management is famous for inefficiently devouring resources, and Duke is certainly no exception. The bottom line is this: Do you have any reason to believe that your experience at Duke will be $1,000 better next year? If not, the University has some explaining to do.

Bill English is a Trinity junior.


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