It’s no secret that a school’s name is important in the college admissions process: students are aware from a very young age that recognizable and well-respected schools are extremely hard to get into and offer a leg up in the job search after graduation. Big-name schools don’t do this for free, as anyone who chose between Colorado College and an in-state public school is acutely aware of. Last year, the average cost of tuition and fees for a year at a private college was $33,480, while in-state residents at state schools paid an average of $9,650. That number was likely closer to $60,000 or even $70,000 if you attended an Ivy League, NESCAC, or other liberal arts school with a low acceptance rate, CC included. Over the past decade, private college tuition has been growing at a rate nearly double the inflation rate. What’s in a name? Clearly, a lot. In addition to single-digit acceptance rates, thousands of dollars of tuition, AP and IB test fees, and SAT prep, college branding has another cost—the money a school spends and the policies it enacts to maintain its reputation as a “top-tier” institution.
In theory, competition should encourage a school to invest in student resources, create innovative curriculum, hire qualified professors, provide internship funding—to genuinely use tuition money to improve the standards of living and learning for those enrolled. But what happens when schools begin to compete on the basis of ranking? When instead of building the best institution, schools are pressured to build the best brand? When the less accessible a school is, the more credentials it is likely to receive? In 2016, for example, CC changed its study abroad policy such that students would continue to pay CC tuition while participating in the off-campus program of their choice. The school’s rationale was that losing the tuition of over 200 students each semester was not financially sustainable, and that doing so would allow financial aid to apply to all study abroad programs. But this also means that, to obtain CC credit,
Students usually pay far more than the actual cost of a semester at the school they’re attending—in other words, they pay for a diploma that says “Colorado College.” And while extending financial aid to study abroad is a worthwhile goal, doing so must be a small part of the budget of a school with a newly renovated library and newly constructed apartments. Where is that money going? To building junior housing so we can talk about our “campus community” when many juniors actually want to live off-campus and aren’t allowed to? To updating our library’s technology when we still aren’t need-blind? To funding an outdoor program that tends to exclude students of color? This is not to say that the goals of the College are bad ones, but rather that there are important and likely low-cost issues we push aside because they’re less likely to be measured in a U.S. News survey. Why haven’t we addressed the feasibility of teaching classes like Organic Chemistry in three and a half weeks? Why do we still offer very few truly intro-level outdoor trips—surely the cost of that is tiny in comparison to CC’s endowment. Perhaps schhols are becoming less honest in their self-assessment, more reliant on nationally decided standards, and less apt to address the specific problems facing most of their students. We can’t compete by raising tuition forever—there will come a point where we will have to decide our priorities for ourselves.