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Boston University has done it again — a “small” annual increase of 3.4 percent in tuition, room and board rates. Shockingly, it is the “lowest percentage increase in the past 20 years.” Interestingly, the rise in overall cost of attendance beats Standard and Poor’s 500’s performance over the past year. As it stands, this is not something to be proud of as an educational institute with the motto “Learning, Virtue, Piety.” Schools and colleges in the United States have been raising the cost of attendance, backing up such a decision with reasons such as increasing research opportunities, expanding overall infrastructure, “competitive increases in salaries” and providing quality education to students. However, these reasons do not seem to hold enough legitimacy in order to authorize an average annual increase in attendance cost by 3.8 percent over the past five years.
Viewed as a corporation driven by maximizing returns on a massive and ever-increasing endowment, the move makes complete sense. It is indeed quite sad to see educational institutions in the U.S. increasingly act like greedy corporations. The main problem with the corporatization of universities is that students are no longer seen as knowledge-seekers but as customers who are to be exploited, financially and socially.
With roughly 60 percent of Americans without an associate’s degree or above, the rising cost of attendance will only add to the misery of inequality that has been intentionally constructed to affect all arenas of life in the U.S. According to a Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll conducted in 2015, 79 percent of Americans “do not think that education beyond high school is affordable for everyone in this country who needs it,” and 80 percent of Americans “agree or strongly agree that colleges and universities need to change to better meet the needs of today’s students.”
One can either ignore such astounding numbers and continue to exploit students and their parents long into their retirement, or one can choose to take a rather different path — one that was envisioned during the Enlightenment age by people like Wilhelm von Humboldt and further extended by the likes of John Dewey.
The other issue that becomes very obvious with rising costs is the fact that most students can hardly focus on their education, as they are scrambling between multiple jobs simply in order to stay at the university and are being bogged down by the vicious debt cycle created by the current system of student loans. Although, viewed with a corporate framework, all of this makes perfect sense. There is no economic reason behind such high student debt and rising tuition costs. There are ideological reasons, though. It is all about maintaining the centralized corporate power structure that has been instituted by neoliberal hawks since the 1970s. Students who are caught in the debt cycle, thanks to rising cost of attendance, can hardly think about the kind of society they want to live in, much less take any action toward achieving such an ideal. Hence, students are made to be complacent and obedient, and they continue to be exploited throughout their lives by the ever-increasing corporate control over society — the general student reaction to tuition hike at BU says it all.
With such financial and social conditions, one cannot expect to receive high quality education at all. Education in itself demands an environment of absolute freedom of thought and action as well as a multitude of channels to express the innate creativity that each individual is endowed with. However, with the increasing corporatization of universities and other educational institutes, it seems as if it is not education that is the supreme priority of these institutions but increasing endowment funds and creating “employable workforce.”
This system of unparalleled uniformity and obedience will eventually self-destruct sooner or later, and rising costs are just one aspect of a completely broken system. The irrationally high ratio of administrators to faculty, the coercive and insecure nature of contracts that adjuncts and other non-tenured faculty members are forced to agree in order to make any sort of living, the exploitative pay for graduate students and many more such problems are something every university in the U.S. will have to confront. The sooner, the better. It may be easy to keep the rabble in line for now, but sooner or later, the people will strike back — as they always have throughout history.
Yash Kothari, [email protected]
A previous version of this Op-Ed referred to Alexander von Humboldt instead of Wilhelm von Humboldt. This correction is reflected in the story above.