Climbing Costs Strain Colleges, Families

Three or four times a week, Nicole Angeli straps on ropes and harnesses and clambers up the 33-foot climbing wall in the Johns Hopkins University recreation center. The 22-year-old senior says her strenuous climbs reduce stress from the demands of classes.

But the climbing wall, installed by Hopkins in 2002 at a cost of $100,000, also represents the lengths to which universities go to pamper students – and one reason why college costs have soared in recent years, far outstripping inflation.

Hopkins is now twice as expensive as it was 15 years ago. For next academic year, the total cost for Hopkins undergraduates, including tuition, room and board, will be $53,390. In 1994-1995, the cost was $27,040. But the sticker shock extends well beyond Hopkins; the average tuition at the nation’s private colleges has more than doubled since 1995.

"Students are looking for Internet access and climbing walls and swimming pools," said Fred Puddester, senior associate dean for finance and administration in Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "These are amenities that all of our competitors have and that we need to attract those students."

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May 4, 2009

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