By Michael Galvin
A Mac Weekly article from April 3, 2006 quoted President Brian Rosenberg as saying, “It’s a balancing act, to keep things affordable and to give people what they want. We can’t be the low-price alternative. We will remain less expensive, but can’t slip farther behind.”The first obvious question is, why should lower tuition prices be automatically linked to slipping “farther behind?” And what is this hypothetical “farther behind,” in the first place? Macalester’s place in U.S. News and World Report’s “best liberal arts school” rankings have slowly been improving. The slip from 25th to 24th is celebrated and prominently publicized by the school on the website. Likewise, as most know, our school has been named a “New Ivy,” a convoluted and recently invented category by Newsweek. But what do these rankings signify for us? Macalester is increasingly attempting to “keep up” with other “more elite” schools in the country by emulating their idea of collegiate prestige. And there is something sad about a small liberal arts school in the Midwest that has recently garnered more media attention, trying to institutionally mimic the structures of the east coast Ivy League in order to construct and project the engrained pretensions that have held sway since those schools’ inceptions. Essentially, what we sacrifice are our values and sense of place. Personally, I didn’t think I was applying for a “new version” of our east coast collegiate aristocratic legacy, but rather a small liberal arts school in Minnesota where people are more interested in critical thinking and community justice. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I think, if Macalester made a name for itself by snubbing such elite and exclusive costs of education? Wouldn’t it be interesting if this school said “No” to the unnecessary increases and extravagant collegiate trends? Yes, there many students receiving financial aid, and yes, as the costs of education rise financial aid rises with it. Still, these arguments are insufficient. I recently told a friend in France how much I paid for school in this country, responding to her telling me her private art school in Paris costs a “ridiculous” $5,000 a year, and she didn’t believe me. We shouldn’t be expected to accrue massive educational debts which we have to pay back for the rest of our lives, with the most financially difficult years being the ones right after college. This signals to me a close relationship between “you’re-on-your-own” American capitalism and our supposedly “aware” and “fair-minded” social institutions (i.e. Macalester College). Our education system should help alleviate such exorbitant costs when it can, because it can.David Boenhke wrote in an article for the Mac Weekly three weeks ago, “The combination of increasing cost and competition is verified by an ever-growing pile of research on the increasing elitism and corporatization of higher education, in the US and elsewhere. Tuition in state colleges and universities has doubled over the last five years and rising costs will shut an estimated 4.4 million students out of college by 2010.” In terms of recent changes at Macalester, the costs of education here went up 6.9 percent this year to $39,000. This is on top of similar increases for overall costs the two preceding years. In a Mac Weekly editorial endorsed by the entire staff from February 19, 2006, they write “At a continued 6.9 percent increase for the next ten years, the total rises to $76,000 in 2006 dollars. Even more conservative five percent increases for the next ten years would see a year at Macalester costing more than $60,000.” The entire staff of the student publication is calling for change in the direction of the institution, to which the administration remains silent. The editorial continues, discussing how the rises will “significantly outpace inflation” and make the college increasingly accessible to fewer economic brackets. “It is disturbing that the college spent an entire year fighting to reduce the cost of financial aid, but failed to allocate any of those anticipated savings to a reduction in persistent tuition increases. The most frightening thing about this issue is that there is no plan to address the situation. Administrators admit there is a problem, and they are studying it, yet they have no solutions. The Administration is making a hasty decision to prioritize the need for revenue now rather than addressing the future implications of rising costs. This is a nearsighted way of addressing a problem that will haunt many in the immediate future.” In the context of the elimination of need-blind admissions, the new extravagant annual Founder’s Day galas (and these are for what again?), the shift to a new study abroad policy where students pay Macalester tuition instead of the cost of the program itself (which seems like robbery considering the lower costs of many programs), and most importantly, the new $41 million MARC athletic facility (up from $30 million just a few weeks ago). Yes, we should be all for alleviating problems with the athletic facility if there is a lack of space. So build an additional wing. Take a couple million dollars even. Not $30 million, then $41 million, when we don’t even have all of the money in the first place. These issues along with the cost of Macalester education at $40,000 a year now are, undeniably, symptomatic of decadent changes. Students are justified to protest.