Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 79: College Still Affordable and Bonds on the Ballot

College Still Affordable…

With financial aid at a record high, the cost of a college education is “well within the grasp of all Americans,” despite an increase in the cost of attending college, according to new reports by the New York-based College Board.

In two studies, Trends in College Pricing 2000 and Trends in Student Aid 2000, the College Board reports that college tuition and fees in 2000-2001 have increased in the last year from 4.4 to 5.2 percent at four-year institutions and from 3.4 to 7.0 percent at two-year institutions. Undergraduates at four-year private institutions are paying 5.2 percent more this year for tuition and fees ($16,332), while room and board has increased 4.2 percent ($6,209).

Students attending four-year public institutions are paying 4.4 percent more for tuition and fees ($3,510), with room and board increasing 5.1 percent ($4,960). At two-year private schools, students are paying seven percent more ($7,458 on average), while those attending two-year public institutions are paying 3.4 percent more ($1,705 on average).

But more than $68 billion in total aid from federal, state, and institutional sources was also available to students and their families in 1999-2000 to assist with college expenses, according to the college board studies. That’s an increase of 4 percent over the previous year after adjusting for inflation and 88 percent higher than a decade ago after adjusting for inflation, the study noted.

While the increases are slightly higher than last year’s, the consumer price index (CPI) has also increased. The CPI increase for the last 12 months ending in August was 3.3 percent. It was 2.3 percent for the previous 12 months.

“There are so many ways for students to finance their education, including scholarships, loans, work-study, summer jobs, part-time jobs during college, and Pell Grants for the financially disadvantaged,” College Board President Gaston Caperton said in a released statement. “But it is crucial for families to plan ahead and save whatever they can for their children’s higher education.”

…And bonds on the ballot

“The American people understand the importance of a college education,” added Caperton, “and candidates from the state house to the White House should address that concern, or they may face rejection at the ballot box and the judgment of history.”

But Caperton’s assessment may not sum the situation in North Carolina. Worrying that voters might not regard high expenditures for the state’s higher education system as a top priority, NC leaders, rather than candidates for public office, are waging a mammoth campaign to convince people that the largest increase in state debt in N.C. history is a good idea.

Seizing every opportunity to pitch the bonds to the public, they have interrupted football games, repeatedly shown UNC’s infomercial for the bond on public TV, blanketed the state in pro-bond advertising, and mailed out letters on university stationery exhorting alums to “spread the word” so they will be able to “celebrate the passage of the bonds.”

But the low point was reached on Monday, October 16, when UNC officials delayed the concert of famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Memorial hall so that the bond proposal could be pitched to the audience of classical music lovers – including a fair number of children. The glories of a refurbished Memorial Hall were impressed upon the well-heeled patrons, who were informed that a local fundraising campaign would begin to raise an additional $4 million on top of the $9 million for Memorial Hall under the bond proposal – provided that the referendum passes.

Pope Center Director George Leef was in the audience with his son. After the final exhortation of the UNC spokesmen to “vote early and often,” young Mr. Leef asked, “Dad, now do we get to hear some music?”