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MIT Must Curtail Self-Help Increases

Most students are accustomed to the announcement of the annual tuition increase: Like a schoolboy waiting for the ruler to fall on his knuckles, it is only a question of how much it will hurt. But year after year, a parallel announcement goes relatively unnoticed: the increase in the self-help levels. This year's increase in self-help is not based on the actual earning potential of students at MIT. It also hides the true price of an MIT education. The Institute should take whatever action necessary to keep the self-help level in line with those of our peer universities as well as with reasonable earnings expectations.

With the Corporation's approval of tuition and self-help levels for next year, MIT undergraduates will be expected to earn or personally borrow $8,150 towards a total cost of attending in excess of $27,000. This self-help level far exceeds a reasonable student earnings expectation. For example, a student who worked on Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program projects for both terms and the summer (at the full standard UROP wage) would only earn $5,200. The student would be expected to borrow the rest personally. And even though many juniors and seniors make more than standard wages, most students cannot hope to meet this self-help level through work, particularly with the demands of classwork during the term.

Part of the concern with self-help levels is one of comparison. Both nominally and as percentage of tuition, MIT's self-help level is the highest by almost $1,000. With the exception of Cornell University, MIT's self-help level as a percentage of tuition is nearly five percent higher than any of our peer universities. Furthermore, MIT cannot neglect the need to remain competitive in terms of real prices to students - i.e. considering increases in the self-help level in connection with increases in tuition.

President Charles M. Vest responds, "Frankly, it is amazing that we can keep our tuition at a level comparable to other world-class universities." This rather pretentious response does not take into account that if MIT wants to continue to attract diverse, world-class students, it simply cannot allow the real price of education to far exceed that of our competitors.

The anxiety over the self-help increase also reflects the history of the rising cost of an MIT education. For the last three years, increases in self-help have outpaced tuition by about two percent. If the trend continues, the real price of MIT will have increased at alarmingly high rate. Although few outside of campus may recognize the difference, the self-help level is really a better measure of cost than just tuition alone. In fact, the tuition increases seems modest compared to the self-help levels.

The fundamental issue that underlies the rising tuition and self-help levels is one of opportunity. The rising self-help level reflects the increasing sacrifice that students must make, particularly when our self-help level is considerably higher than many of our peer universities and is also beyond a reasonable expectation for earnings. For the same reasons that the Institute spent millions defending the Overlap Group's right to share applicant information, MIT must remain affordable and accessible to students and their families. Keeping the self-help level low is an essential part of that mission.