With annual tuition and fees at Princeton University this year
costing as much as a Ford Explorer, no one would accuse the Ivy
League school of being a bargain.
But at a time when the cost of attending US colleges and
universities is growing at three times the rate of inflation, some
creative cost-cutting measures have found their way to even the
most prestigious and wealthy schools.
For the 1996-97 school year, Princeton's tuition, room and
board, and related fees will total $28,325. But despite the
platinum price, a Princeton education this year will cost just 4.6
percent more than last year - the lowest increase in tuition in 30
After allowing annual double-digit increases in the 1980s,
universities are now striving to do what Princeton has done: keep
tuition increases below 5 percent. Harvard and Yale did it this
year, and the University of California system managed to keep its
1996 tuition at the 1995 level.
"Moderating the rate of increase of Princeton's tuition is the
No. 1 priority of this president, Howard Shapiro, and the board of
trustees," says Princeton spokeswoman Jacquelyn Savani.
It's perhaps proof that higher education is becoming a luxury
when 5 percent increases - still twice the inflation rate - are
cause for celebration. But with the cost of technology and
competitive professors' salaries, combined with scarce public
dollars and declining enrollment due to a "baby bust," 5 percent is
about as good as it gets, says David Merkowitz of the American
Council on Education. "Historically, increases in college tuition
have always outstripped inflation."
At Princeton, department heads were required to cut their
budgets by July 1. The school enacted hiring "pauses," in which
secretarial vacancies were left open for three to six months, and a
hiring "frost" among high-salaried administrators. This meant that
if a position became vacant, the school would try to eliminate it.
When the director of development left, the position was erased.
When the speech writer became provost, the speech-writing position
was cut. "The question was: Does Howard Shapiro really need a
speech writer?" Ms. Savani says.
More schools are asking similar questions as they come under
attack for allowing tuition to soar beyond the reach of average
students. A General Accounting Office report released last month
found that average tuition costs at four-year public colleges leapt
234 percent between 1980 and 1995; household income and consumer
price inflation rose 82 and 74 percent, respectively, in the same
15 years. The report blamed rising administrative and research
expenses and - due to a 14-percent drop in state aid since 1980 - a
greater reliance on tuition as a revenue source. …