Written by Emma Jones // Graphic by Wagner Valdez
The University’s estimated tuition prices for the 2023-24 school year are being raised by 7.7%, reflecting a national increase in expenses due to inflation.
University President Mike Williams said tuition prices increase slightly each year but that the upcoming price spike is higher than normal due to drastic percentage increases in the consumer price index (CPI) over the last few years.
The CPI, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (US BLS), represents changes in the prices of all goods and services purchased for consumption by urban households. Prices used to calculate the CPI are collected in urban areas around the country, as well as various retail and service establishments.
“For the last five years, the net tuition has actually stayed flat,” Williams said. “When things are relatively stable, you can pull that off sometimes … but the same dollars aren’t the same dollars as they were before, so this is a little bit of a catch up with that.”
Net tuition refers to the actual cost needed to cover education expenses, which is determined by subtracting grants and scholarships from an institution’s cost of attendance.
According to the US BLS, the CPI rose 2.3% from 2018 to 2019, and from 2019 to 2020 it rose 1.4%. The following year, 2020 to 2021, the CPI rose 7%, the largest yearly percent change since 1981. From 2021 to 2022 it rose 7.5%. CPI is typically determined on a December to December basis, but from February 2022 to February 2023 it has increased 6%, with food prices specifically increasing 9.5%.
“You can go to sit-down restaurants, and it’s cheaper than fast food places now, so this is just an echo effect of what’s happening in the marketplace,” Vice President of Enrollment Services Steve Lake said.
CPI is always something that Harding considers when making its yearly budget, Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer Tammy Hall said.
“That’s just a big factor in it,” Hall said. “You think about a service organization — what’s the biggest expense? People … so we want to take care of our people.”
Williams said though tuition prices are rising, financial aid awards will also be increasing.
“Even though tuition is going up, we expect the aid to continue to go up too,” Williams said. “We believe that in the wash, it’s not as big an impact to the students because aid is going up faster than tuition is going up.”
Lake said the national government is increasing its financial aid amounts, and in addition, Harding’s endowment fund has been performing well the last few years so the University has had the ability to award larger scholarships. He also said compared to other private schools, Harding’s tuition ranks in the lower percentile.
“Historically we’ve been in the lowest percentile of private schools in America,” Lake said. “We are an extremely low cost private school education.”
From the 2019-2020 to 2022-2023 school years, Harding’s yearly tuition cost has increased by an average of $804, according to statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. This upcoming year it will be increasing by an estimated $1,740, a 7.7% price increase.
“Even though affordability is really important for us to do as a school, and a nation, there’s still a huge return on investment [in higher education], even with student debt,” Williams said. “We don’t want to minimize cost increases because we know those are painful for a large number of students, but at the same time … the investment is going to pay off.”
The tuition cost for next school year is currently estimated at $24,240, but according to Hall, the budget, including the tuition price, won’t be approved by Harding’s board until the first week of May.