Thursday, November 30, 2023

The impact of inflation on university students

NewsAnalysisThe impact of inflation on university students

Staff Reporter

The stereotype of the “broke college student” is one that has been carried through generations.  Between textbooks, tuition and a multitude of other college essentials, university education in the United States is far from inexpensive. On top of expenses, students generally have to juggle a schedule full of class times, homework and extracurricular activities, leaving less time for the average college student to make money during the school year.  

With the gradually increasing rate of inflation, gas, food and textbook expenses are increasing as well.  This generation of college-goers, along with the administration at their respective universities, are undergoing difficult price changes.

James Butkiewicz, a professor of macroeconomics at the university who is teaching several sections of Banking and Monetary Policy this fall, expressed his thoughts regarding the current expenses of the university.

“There are just many things that the university does that are faced with higher prices right now,” Butkiewicz said.  “We have vehicles, we buy gasoline, we buy electricity.  We also have people who do painting and we have maintenance crews, so whatever the costs of the materials are, that’s what they buy. And it is going up on an ongoing basis.”

While university administration has had to spend more money with rising inflation recently, cost of attendance at the university, including tuition and room and board, has not yet significantly increased as a result.

Cost of attendance for the university has been increasing steadily every fiscal year, regardless of significant inflation, according to data released by the university’s Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness.

Michael Arnold, another professor of economics at the university, pointed out that while tuition has increased by 3%, that is still much lower than the rate of inflation, which is currently 8%.  He drew a similar connection when it came to room and board, which has increased by 3.6% for this academic year.  

However, the university’s fiscal year does not reset until late June, leaving time for inflation-induced price changes to occur later in the academic year.  In the meantime, university students are being financially affected in ways beyond tuition, room and board.

“For off-campus expenses, the story will be a bit different,” Arnold said.  “Students who are commuting, or students who periodically drive home for the weekend will incur much higher costs for these drives. Students paying their own utilities [off-campus] are likely to see substantial increases relative to last year as well”

Julia Wolfe, a sophomore chemical engineering major, and her roommates found off-campus living to be more financially viable, as opposed to university housing.

“It was pretty significantly cheaper,” Wolfe said. “And then I could also get a smaller meal plan and save money that way, just by buying my groceries.”

As Arnold pointed out, however, those who live off-campus are not completely free of the cost burden of inflation.  

In Wolfe’s search for student housing for the upcoming 2023-24 academic year, she said that prices have seemed to have increased since last year.  Despite the perceived increase, many off-campus apartments have yet to publicly release their leasing prices for the upcoming school year.

“If the price of housing off-campus keeps increasing, it’s gonna put students in a really hard place because it’s expensive to live on campus,” Wolfe said.  “Normally off-campus is a cheaper option.”

Aside from personal expenses, such as housing and gas, there are other college costs that are unavoidable and rising in price, like textbooks.

“What I’ve tried to do for my classes is use an online version of a textbook because textbook prices are very high right now,” Butkiewicz said.  “I’ve tried to find the least expensive way for them to buy the books for the class that are available.”

Wolfe mentioned that she has had similar experiences when it comes to prices at the university bookstore, making online textbooks an appealing alternative.  

“My lab professor was not even aware of how much the bookstore was charging to use his lab manual,” Wolfe said.  “He wrote the lab manual and he told us, ‘I was expecting you guys to have to pay probably $10 for it; I was trying to make it affordable for you guys.’  The bookstore ended up charging $30 for it.”

While college students may be disheartened by the economic state of the country right now, it is possible that there is an end in sight.

“I think we have seen the worst of it,” Arnold said, in regards to nationwide inflation.  “The Federal Reserve has taken an aggressive stance with interest rate increases to moderate inflation.  With much higher interest rates, individuals have a greater incentive to save, rather than spend, which helps prevent inflation.”

While Arnold acknowledges an increase in prices can undeniably be frustrating, he suggested there are some potential positives, such as an incentive to save.  Individual students can save money by taking fewer trips home, especially with now-expensive gas prices.  The price of Main Street food could require more frequent trips to the dining hall or a grocery store instead.  These possible advantages, however, are certainly not a dismissal of the impact inflation has on university students.

“It’s a new experience,” Butkiewicz said.  “Today, students have grown up in an environment of pretty stable prices and very low inflation. So I’m sure it’s quite a shock. It’s something that we hope will come to an end very soon.”




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