With the beginning of Homecoming, hundreds of alumni have returned to a campus that has undergone a great deal of change. Those celebrating their fifth anniversary will be surprised by the presence of New House, the Posner Center, the Doherty addition and Newell-Simon Hall. Those celebrating their 20th anniversary will be surprised by the University Center and the new School of Computer Science. Those celebrating their 50th anniversary will wonder what this ?Mellon College? is all about.
Yet for all the geographical and administrative change, there remains an important question: What truly makes a Carnegie Mellon experience, and how is it changing?
I was fortunate to have dinner last year with a distant cousin, Jeanette Egerman. She had seen my name in some alumni magazine, contacted the Dean of Students, and discovered that we were related. Now in her early nineties, she was a graduate of CFA during the Depression. She explained to me how she and the other viola majors used to live together in cramped quarters, ?poor as church mice.? Although extremely short on cash, they scraped by to meet the double-digit tuition bills.
What continues to stand out in my mind after that meeting was that even during the Depression, students were able to attend school on a tuition that seems miniscule, even when adjusted for inflation.
I fear that we have seen a fundamental change in the demography of the students able to attend CMU. The corporatization of the university has reduced everything to the bottom line. Programs are created or cut based not on academic merit but on the need to turn a profit. Tuition has risen to the point where middle-class students may soon find themselves priced out of a Carnegie Mellon experience. There are very few students from working-class families here, despite Andrew Carnegie?s original goals.
Quite simply, the costs of a CMU education have risen significantly faster than inflation, and as a result are a greater burden now on middle-class families than ever before.
To make matters worse, financial aid has not kept up with tuition hikes. CMU needs to reverse course and only raise tuition when it is accompanied with a greater increase in financial aid. We need to ensure that ours is a campus that is open to all, and not only to the children of a privileged few.
There are great changes to the Carnegie Mellon experience ahead of us. For example, the promise of interdisciplinarity is still largely unfulfilled. For all the exemplary ideas we display in works such as ?The Da Vinci Effect?, interdisciplinary collaboration seems constrained to take place between certain groups within CFA and SCS. True interdisciplinarity has not yet been achieved.
Also, the goal of sustainability gets closer every year; we may find ourselves the greenest university in the world.
If we do not reverse our course on tuition hikes, we will not be able to attain any of these goals as Carnegie Mellon. We will be a radically different school and changed for the worse.
This problem is not unique to Carnegie Mellon. The tuitions of institutes of higher education across the country are getting higher and higher. We should not sit idly by and watch tuition continue to rise. Carnegie Mellon cannot afford it. I hope that when I return to the school for my 20th anniversary, I am inspired by the changes, not depressed.