You’ve got mail!
Although you hate checking your Lehigh email — always have and always will — you decide the excitement of a Thursday is enough to combat the annoyance of what is likely a reminder for a lecture you don’t care about.
But after one glance at the subject heading, you know this email is going to be more irksome than your typical lecture series. In fact, it’s enough to make you swear in disgust. You wish you had never possessed the optimism to check.
The mass message was an announcement that tuition is taking another hike for the 2017-18 school year, and it’s a big one at 5 percent. The class charges alone have officially eclipsed $50,000, a new milestone for the university.
After calming down from an amped few minutes, you return to the body of the email, which concluded with the following message from vice president of finance and administration, Pat Johnson.
“We remain dedicated to providing you with an unparalleled educational experience, and supporting you with the resources you need to thrive here at Lehigh and beyond.”
Unparalleled educational experience.
It certainly sounds like a great promise, but that poetic triad needs to be investigated as a critical exercise because the United States is home to over 5,000 colleges and universities. There are many other viable options that might come at a more forgiving price than the $64,060 the email calculated to include all typical expenses.
In U.S. News’ national university rankings, Lehigh is tied with six other schools for the 44th spot, however, even before the tuition hike, all five other universities were cheaper.
That minimal diagnosis would signal it is not cost effective to attend Lehigh. But in the scheme of things, tuition rate is just one of the countless ways you can derive value from a four-year education.
Taking the next step paints the picture slightly more clear. That same, standard annual U.S. News ranking put Lehigh higher on its list of “best value schools” at 38th place. So even with tuition being so high, it is counteracted by the average amount of aid.
Where else should we search in our efforts to determine whether attending Lehigh is really worth it?
Career-focused students would point toward the median starting salary of graduates: $60,400, according to a 2015 article from Business Insider. The figure was the 12th-highest on the list, a truly impressive feat and one that surrounds Lehigh with institutions that are among the best in the world.
The median salary is a great indicator of success after getting a degree, but the issue is there are many types of degrees across different colleges and different majors within them. Some, by nature, are disciplines that are paid more. So, when Lehigh is known for its job placement of engineers and business students, how do we know the median salary is really a byproduct of the program and not just the discipline?
Reaching back and forth between various rankings lists, tuition rates and salary figures reflects the reality of how subjective perceived value can really be.
Don’t believe anyone who claims they’ve devised the ultimate metric to rank schools or decide the best school for a given individual. It’s a pointless endeavor to anyone who is looking for perfection in their assessments.
But that was not the original question, and it is time to get back to thinking about what part of Lehigh’s experience is “unparalleled” as Johnson described.
Dual-degree programs such as Computer Science and Business, Integrated Business and Engineering and Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences, known as IDEAS, allow students to gain a coveted interdisciplinary skill set. Research and travel funding opportunities such as Iacocca internships and Mountaintop projects give a hands-on arena for young minds. Even Lehigh’s party ranking is relevant.
All of these Lehigh-specific factors come into play in creating a holistic experience that cannot be matched by other schools. That is not to say Lehigh is better than them, it just means whether you believe in its value or not, wearing brown and white comes with a variety of unique opportunities.
In the end, it really becomes about whether the school is a good match for the student. Four years is longer than it sounds, and each day will feel like a burden if the pairing doesn’t work.
So while the 5 percent tuition increase can’t be justified for some, others might be able to get positive returns on a 100 percent raise. As long as Lehigh is committed to providing the need-based aid its students deserve and creating a constantly improving, “unparalleled” atmosphere, it will have buyers.