Officials say CNN ranking of GW's tuition as highest in country is misleading

by Brandon Butler

CNNMoney.com recently reported GW's tuition as the highest-priced in the country, but University administrators said the ranking is misleading.

For the 2006-2007 academic year, incoming freshmen paid $49,290 with room and board costs, according to GW Media Relations.

GW is one of a select few universities in the country with a fixed-tuition plan, which guarantees that students will pay one flat rate for up to five years of undergraduate education. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said the fixed tuition plan forces the University to set the initial incoming price high, but when averaged out over a four-year education, GW's tuition is more comparable to other schools.

"It's not correct to rank us first," he said. "But it's also not right to rank us 35."

Lucie Lapovsky, a former president of Mercy College in New York and an economist who studies college tuition prices, said GW's fixed-tuition initiative is a "relativity daring move" on the University's part.

"This system is not too common because it usually requires the freshman tuition to be set higher than those institutions who raise tuition every year," she said. "But by the time you hit your senior year, you will be paying less than students at comparable universities whose tuition has gone up every year."

Last February the Board of Trustees set GW's fixed tuition for incoming freshmen at $37,790. The change marked a 3.9 percent increase from the previous year, the smallest tuition increase in about 20 years.

The class of 2007, the last class not on the fixed-tuition plan, footed a bill of $33,590, also a 3.9 percent increase from previous years. With the addition of $11,500 worth of room and board costs, GW's tuition is more than $49,000 for incoming freshmen.

According to the University, average tuition increases for colleges and universities nationwide was 6.3 percent last year. The University also gave out about $115 million dollars of financial aid for the 2006-2007 academic year.

Despite the smallest increase in tuition over 20 years, compared to other institutions, GW tuition is at the top of a pricey list of schools.

The $37,790 fixed tuition is almost $32,000 more than the average in-state public school tuition. The price is also $15,602 more than the average cost of a four-year private institution, according to CNN.

"It is expensive to go to any private institution in America," said Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz. "Even the publics are getting up in price."

He said the trustees and University administrators take multiple factors into account when setting the price of tuition. These include the overall demand, characteristics of students and parents and the trends of other comparable institutions.

"We look at what the marketplace is doing," Katz said. "We gauge reaction to it by looking at the size and quality of the application pool, and ultimately how many students come to GW."

"And all of those things are positive," he added.

Katz said it is unlikely tuition would decrease because he said such a move would require cutting back programming. Instead, he said the University's priority is to reduce the rate of tuition growth.

"The most important thing is to continue to improve educational experience," he said.

Trachtenberg said a four-course, four-credit hour system, creating a mandatory summer session for some students are two ways GW can more efficiently spend its money.

"This is a proposal that will control costs, enhance quality, make it possible to increase compensation and hold tuition prices for students steady," he said about the ideas.

The four-by-four plan has received a recommendation for approval by Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman and is being considered by the schools' deans.

Kip Lornell, an adjunct professor of music who is also leading a push for the unionization of part-time faculty, said he was not surprised to learn that GW is ranked the most expensive school in the country.

"This only confirms the trend over the last couple years that GW is an extremely high-priced school," Lornell said.

He said GW is pricey because, "students are willing to pay it." He warned that if GW raises tuition further, it may repel some students from applying. Other schools topping the CNNMoney.com list include the University of Richmond at $36,550, Sarah Lawrence College in New York at $36,088 and Kenyon College in Ohio at $36,050.

View the policies on commenting here.

blog comments powered by Disqus