When the Board of Trustees announced last month that tuition would rise by 4.25 percent for the 2010-2011 school year, there was the usual student grumbling and discontent. Tuition’s growth has consistently exceeded inflation, and at $39,480 there is concern that private education is becoming unaffordable.

Some students and parents feel that they are at the whim of administration, and can be stuck with paying price increases. Although UR has kept tuition hikes relatively consistent over time, it’s hard to predict tuition over the next four years.

Chief Financial Officer Ronald Paprocki said that as long as University costs rise, there is a need to increase the price of tuition. The rise in tuition will almost always exceed Consumer Price Index-measured inflation, which is an unrepresentative sample of the kinds of goods such as faculty and technology that top-tier universities require. These goods are in limited supply and tend to cost more. Universities assert that they must increase tuition to remain competitive with comparable institutions.

Students’ wishes for lower tuition and UR’s wishes to maintain a topnotch institution simply do not mesh. But it is not just a problem at UR nationwide, the cost of higher education has increased faster than income growth for decades. And as the costs continue to rise, both students and universities will be faced with tough decisions.

Families will have to do increasingly more soul-searching to decide if a $200,000 (and counting) investment in education is worthwhile. And while an investment is almost sure to pay dividends in the form of future earnings, it’s an investment that a growing number of families, particularly the middle class, simply won’t be able to afford.

When a burgeoning number of middle-class families turn their backs on private education, universities like UR will be faced with a dilemma. Financial aid doesn’t make college cheaper for everyone. Will UR continue to provide state-of-the-art technology to its science programs and continue to retain faculty? Or will it decide to slow down these initiatives in an attempt to make education more affordable to the middle class?

Both students and universities are headed down a collision course. Stay tuned.

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