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Tuition: What’s Princeton Up To?

Princeton is opening up some tuition daylight between its rates and those of its competitors in the Ivy League. Why?

Ivy Tuition 2011a.jpg

If Yale is the Gay Ivy, Princeton is now safely ensconced as the Cheap Ivy after several years of modest tuition increases (only 1% this year vs. the College’s 5.9% jump) . Four years at Princeton, at current rates, will cost a full-fare family $25,184 less than going to Dartmouth. And unlike Dartmouth, Princeton students receiving financial assistance — whose families earn more than $75,000/year — will not have to take out loans to pay part of their tuition. Who could turn that offer down? Certainly not the >40% of Dartmouth families who don’t get any financial aid at all, and not students who will have to take out loans from the College in the coming years.

While Princeton points to several factors to justify its policies (“high unemployment; low inflation; positive investment returns by Princeton’s endowment in the last fiscal year; and the strong performance of the 2009-10 Annual Giving fundraising campaign”), in truth the motivation has to be a desire to compete fiercely for the world’s best students. Good for Princeton, a school that has kept its eye on the ball.

Where does that leave the College? In head-to-head competition for students admitted to both Dartmouth and Princeton, I can’t see why we would win any battles at all. And if Harvard and Yale continue their high increases (3.8% and 5.8% respectively this year) for much longer, Princeton will take many of their top students, too.

Good for the Tigers for breaking from the pack. They will be rewarded for their boldness and independence by improving their university — and eventually their decision will benefit students at other schools, too, once boards of trustees at more costly institutions understand that the era of fat, self-indulgent administrations is over.

Note: This tough fight for students should make any reader re-consider the wisdom of the College’s recent 2+% across-the-board salary increase for staff. Had the money budgeted for this jump been dedicated instead to keeping Dartmouth’s tuition at competitive levels, we would have had a better student body in the coming years. What’s more important?

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