College Costs And Competition Rising, But What About Quality?

The opinion-page article ``Colleges' Public Trust,'' May 30, does not mention financial aid. As tuition at private colleges goes up, colleges are spending more money on financial aid for needy students, thereby pushing prices still higher. At many institutions, the percentage of the operating budget going into financial aid has doubled or tripled over the past ten years. For some institutions financial aid is as high as 20 percent. So, paradoxically, higher education's desire to remain accessible is making it more expensive. And at the same time, the federal government has halved the amount of financial aid it provides.

Colleges and universities are becoming more competitive as the number of eligible students drops. As we pump money into admissions offices and student services, college costs are rising faster than inflation.

But there are still many bargains in higher education. While a few highly publicized institutions woo faculty stars and reduce teaching loads, there are colleges and universities where faculty members teach diligently and students benefit from high-quality services. Humphrey Tonkin, West Hartford, Conn., President University of Hartford

Of trees and views Regarding the sidebar ``Planting Trees in Urban Areas Yields Benefits,'' May 22: My wife and I live in a ``planned community'' on a golf course. Before we landscaped our yard, we were required to obtain our neighbors' approval. We were denied the right to plant any trees in our own yard because of our neighbors' concern that their peripheral views could become obstructed.

This hints at the larger problem of halting the runaway degradation of our environment. Society seems unwilling to make a few petty sacrifices in order to save the land for future generations. Until basic attitudes change from shortsightedness to farsightedness, our environment will continue to be depleted. Richard D. Soule, Vista, Calif.

Sending men to Mars The opinion-page column ``Mars and the $500 Billion American Flag,'' May 29, argues that automated systems can function better than humans in space.

This may be true as far as basic functions go - eating, sleeping, and their machine equivalents. But it is not true with regard to intellectual functions.

The author argues that sending humans to Mars offers no performance or cost advantage. But one potential cost advantage is that humans can serve as troubleshooters. Technical glitches on automated space missions can mean the loss of the entire mission. Humans are creative and adaptable, able to respond quickly to emergencies. Humans are also valuable as selective observers, capable of real-time responses to unexpected phenomena.

Robotic spacecraft play a crucial role in space exploration, fulfilling important survey missions and giving scientists an idea of what they want to study further. But the best way to fully explore complicated environments such as Mars is with people, working in concert with autonomous systems and providing the dexterity, intuition, and imagination to probe the planet thoroughly.

And human space explorers can provide first-hand accounts of their observations and discoveries, enabling the American people to share in their experiences. Terence T. Finn, Washington, NASA Assistant Director for Policy

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