Death, Taxes, and Tuition Hikes?
You may want to add "ever-increasing tuition" to the list of things in life that are inevitable. For the 18th consecutive year, the rise of college costs has outpaced inflation. On average, students across the country are paying 4 percent more for college tuition and fees in 1998–99 than the previous year, according to The College Board's annual tuition survey.
Private four-year colleges clocked the fastest increase as the average annual tuition price rose 5 percent to $14,508. Students at public schools pay an average of $3,243 a year, up 4 percent. And those living on campus (public and private colleges) are paying from 3 to 5 percent more for room and board.
The 1998–99 tuition increase is more than double the inflation rate, which was just 1.6 percent last year. Adjusting for inflation, the average student at a four-year private college paid the equivalent of $7,000 for a year's tuition in 1980; today a typical student pays nearly $15,000. And at top-level universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, students pay upward of $24,000 in tuition and fees per year.
Despite the perennial increases, college is still accessible and affordable, according to College Board President Donald Stewart. "The majority of Americans often overestimate the price of attending college and may be discouraged by those miscalculations," he says. The survey points out that 52 percent of full-time undergraduates attend colleges that charge less than $4,000 per year. In contrast, only 6.4 percent of students pay more than $20,000 per year in tuition and fees.
The wide disparity of college costs paints a multilayered picture for prospective engineering students. In Southern California, for example, students planning to pursue an undergraduate engineering degree have a number of choices—with wildly different prices. At the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, first year students will pay $19,116 in tuition and fees this academic year. Meanwhile, in-state students at the University of California, Los Angeles, will pay only $3,863 in tuition, which is 4.6 percent less than what they paid last year, thanks to the state's booming economy. And at Santa Monica College, a two-year community college that boasts the highest number of student transfers to UCLA, UC Berkeley, and the University of Southern California, students pay only $446 in tuition for the year, about the cost of one credit at Cal Tech.
Just as rising tuition has become the norm, so has financial aid, so few students actually pay the full tuition price. But many students and their families are not aware of the resources available to them. "Especially for the financially disadvantaged, we must provide timely information that is readily understood," Stewart explains.
The College Board reports that financial aid reached an all-time high of $60 billion in 1997–98 (the latest year for which data are available), a 6 percent increase over the previous year. But 60 percent of that aid came in the form of loans, which have to be repaid after graduation; while only 40 percent of the aid was in grants. Those proportions were almost exactly the opposite in 1980–81. And federal Pell Grants, which help the poorest students, have not kept up with inflation or tuition increases. According to a study by the Education Institute, the average grant covered 39 percent of public college costs in 1977; today it only covers 22 percent.
Congress has provided some relief for students, however. A law passed last fall brings student loan interest rates to their lowest level in 17 years, lowering them from 8.25 percent to 7.46 percent. That means over a 10-year repayment period, students will save approximately $50 for every $1,000 borrowed. Congress also increased the minimum Pell Grant, and approved the Hope Scholarship program and tuition tax credits.
"We must encourage colleges to do even more to hold the line on rising prices, even as we encourage families to plan ahead," Stewart says. "Simply put, it is in everyone's interest—the wider society, the colleges, and families and individual students—that a college education remain accessible, and therefore, affordable."
The College Board's reports Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid are available at www.collegeboard.org.
he Wrong Side of the Looking Glass
At times last fall, Microsoft's anti-trust trial resembled Alice in Wonderland's Mad Tea Party, with the key players changing places with what seemed to be little rhyme or reason. And also like that fanciful party, the trial's cast of characters was mostly male, demonstrating the extent to which high-stakes computer companies are run by men. That cast is not likely to change anytime soon, judging from a recent study on girls' participation in computer science courses.
When it comes to computer technology, are girls, unlike Alice, stuck behind the looking glass? Yes, according to a study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation. Girls lag behind boys in the number and level of computer courses they enroll in, and that gap persists through college and into the lucrative technology career market as well.
"Technology is now the new ‘boys' club' in our nation's public schools," explains Janice Weinman, AAUW executive director.
The report shows that 25 percent of female high school students take a computer science course, compared with 30 percent of boys. More significant, boys are three times more likely than girls to take computer programming courses. The trend is even more marked on college campuses, where fewer than three out of 10 undergraduate degrees in computer and information science went to women in 1996, the study reports.
So who's to blame? Not Bill Gates—at least not directly. Rather, the study identifies three culprits: computer games designed largely for boys that don't appeal to girls; lower self-confidence in girls, especially when they see their male classmates get a head start in computer savvy; and a lack of understanding or awareness of the issue by some educators.
Others distribute the blame more broadly. Suzanne Brainard, director of the Center for Women in Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, says that "the major problem with women in sciences is that they are not properly prepared because they are not encouraged to do it."
Encouragement for girls to take computer and general science courses, Brainard believes, should come from parents and teachers as well as the high-tech industry, which stands to gain from increased numbers of students entering computer science courses. "Companies need to become stronger catalysts for change, in high schools and in colleges, in order to retain women in science classes," Brainard says.
With more encouragement, perhaps more girls will learn, just as Alice did, that you can explore, and learn from, what's on the other side of the looking glass.
Illustration by Jack Mortensbak
In Her Honor
"It pays to be the first in any field, if you can," Kate Gleason once observed. She would know. Gleason was one of the first women to attend an engineering school and the first woman elected to membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Now Gleason is the first—and only—woman to have an engineering college named in her honor. The Rochester Institute of Technology bestowed that distinction on the Rochester, New York, native in October.
Gleason, who died in 1933, was a lifelong supporter of RIT, and that tradition has been carried on by Rochester-based Gleason Corp., a producer of bevel and cylindrical gear planers. When RIT was looking for a sponsor for its engineering college, it naturally turned to Gleason family members, who ponied up $10 million.
When RIT offered to name the college in Gleason's honor, "We were thunderstruck by their request," says Jan Gleason, a great-niece who has been collecting the trailblazing woman's papers for a planned biography. "Kate was always very philanthropic, but never in her own name. We felt it was finally her turn to be recognized."
Born in 1865 to an Irish immigrant, Gleason became one of the first women to formally study engineering when she entered Cornell University in 1884. She never graduated, though, as her father called her back home to help run the family gear-making firm. "That [incident] was my first big sorrow and my heart broke utterly," Gleason admitted in a later interview. Gleason eventually left the family business and went into private banking, becoming the first female president of a U.S. bank. Later, she began her third professional career as a low-cost housing developer.
Being a woman was never a disadvantage in engineering, Gleason said in a 1926 interview. "When I recall stories told me by women struggling in other professions, I insist that engineers are in a class apart," she said.