The Real Reason Penn’s Tuition Is Going Up Again This Year

Hint: There's no reason for it to go down.

Penn has just announced that the cost of its undergrad tuition will go up by 3.9 percent this year. This is the sixth year in a row that our Ivy’s tuition hike has been 3.9 percent, demonstrating either that Penn thinks 4 percent sounds like a lot more than 3.9 percent, or that 39 is Amy Gutmann‘s lucky number.

If you think paying $63,526 to take courses like “Poetics of Screenwriting” and “Witches, Whores and Rogues” sounds a little steep, that just shows you don’t know the value of a dollar. Neither do I, apparently. I’m puzzled, because while Penn announced the tuition jump, it also announced that it wasn’t really a tuition jump, because financial aid would also be going up, to an all-time high of $206 million, which, the Daily Pennsylvanian assures us, “should keep attendance relatively affordable.” Hang onto that “relatively” like a drowning man.

Now, granted, I don’t have a Penn degree — a fact the university’s undergrads will sneer about in the comments section of Under the Button when this item gets picked up there — but wouldn’t it be simpler all around just to not raise tuition and not increase the financial aid? I mean, doesn’t this sound like pushing money around in a circle? Penn is already one of the most expensive colleges in the Ivy League, and its students, the White House said earlier this year, take out more loans than those at any of its peers. The cost of a dorm room and board alone is $1,450 a month. That’s double my mortgage, and my bathrooms don’t have vomit on the floor.

But rich people understand that when you pay more for something, it’s better. That’s why they drive BMWs and Saabs, and pay millions of dollars for paintings that look like vomit on the floor. Besides, who wants to go to a cheap college? To keep up with Yale and Harvard, Penn has to keep hiking its cost. Would you want to be known as the cut-rate Ivy? I don’t think so.

So the price keeps going up, and the financial aid does, too. Only the very rich and foreigners pay full price at Penn anyway, and they don’t mind. It’s a badge of honor for them not to get financial aid. Meantime, the proles who make it through Penn’s gates are incredibly grateful to be getting a degree that costs more than their entire neighborhoods’ annual gross income, and vow to make substantial alumni contributions to the newest financial-aid fund-raising campaign when they come out on the other side. Everybody’s happy, and the status quo is maintained. That Penn — that’s some smart school.

Follow @SandyHingston on Twitter.