Investing in higher education is crucial, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber told members of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon last Thursday. Making his first official address to the local business community, Mr. Eisgruber warned that higher education, especially at state and community schools, is in trouble.
“Right now we’re at a moment where our models of higher education are under a lot of stresses, particularly in New Jersey,” he said. “The highest increases in tuition are coming because states are supplying less and less money to every segment of our higher education system and asking those institutions to do more and more with less and less. They are being forced, because there is no other way to do it, to raise tuition to compensate for the money being pulled out from their budgets.”
An impassioned speaker, Mr. Eisgruber was critical of a New York Times story in May 2012 about soaring costs of college education, focusing on a woman who was carrying some $100,000 in debts to Ohio Northern University. “You pick up a newspaper and there are stories written about the cost of college and whether or not the value of college is worth that cost,” he said. “There is general doubt as a result, at least in the news media as you read it, about whether or not this investment that has been so important over the history of our country remains an important investment to make right now.”
But entering the economy without a college degree is not a favorable option. “The overwhelming evidence is that the value of a college degree today is higher than it has ever been,” he said.
Mr. Eisgruber championed the value of state schools and community colleges as well as Ivy League schools such as Princeton University. But allowing himself to “brag a little,” he said Princeton is ranked as one of the most affordable places to attend college because of it’s financial aid program, of which some 60 percent currently take advantage. “Seventy-five percent of our students graduate without debt, and the rest with $5,000 to $6,000 of debt,” he said.
According to the Association of American Universities, he added, 50 percent of students nationally graduate without debt. “The rest have about $26,000 to $27,000 in debt, not $100,000 as reported in the New York Times story.”
Mr. Eisgruber graduated from Princeton in 1983 before going on to the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and the University of Chicago Law School. After teaching at New York University’s School of Law for 11 years, he joined the Princeton faculty in 2001 and was the University’s provost before being named president.
During a question-and-answer session following his talk, Mr. Eisgruber said the University will be expanding at some point in the future. He also expressed hope that the school will be able to accommodate more students. “Given that we are taking fewer qualified students on a percentage basis right now than we have ever taken in our past, if we would take a few more, that would be a better thing for all of the reasons I have described,” he said.