The University's highest oversight body announced a tuition hike that will set mandatory fees for next year's freshmen at above $50,000.
The Board of Trustees voted Friday to raise tuition to $39,210 for incoming undergraduates, a 3.8 percent increase from last year. While GW administrators are calling the tuition raise the lowest in decades, GW is the first major school in the United State to charge more than $50,000 for tuition and other expenses like housing and food, according to the Associated Press.
University officials said the fixed-tuition plan keeps GW from topping the charts in terms of the cost of college over four years. Fixed-tuition guarantees that tuition will not rise for up to five years for each incoming class, so the hike will only impact the freshman class of 2011.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said the tuition rise was the lowest percentage increase in the past 20 years. He said the University's growing endowment allows for lower tuition increases, more scholarships, higher faculty salaries and benefits. In December, the University's endowment surpassed $1 billion.
"We're trying to be increasingly more competitive in (not raising tuition), and as our endowment is growing, we're able to do some things that you can't do when you're poor," Trachtenberg said.
"(The tuition increase) is not a provocative number when compared to inflation," said Lou Katz, the executive vice president and treasurer. "We believe it will be popular in the marketplace."
Some mandatory costs, like housing prices, also increased by 5.5 percent and will be set at $8,020 for next year. With food allowances remaining at $3,400, GW mandatory costs for incoming freshmen will be $50,630.
Out of a list of 41 schools GW's tuition is the highest of its peer institution, but because of the fixed-tuition plan, GW is actually ranked ninth in terms of total tuition and fees over four years of those peer institutions, according to a University projection study.
They said that out of its peer institutions, GW is the only school to offer fixed-tuition and to guarantee that students will get at least the same amount of financial aid each year as they received as freshmen.
As GW's tuition increase was announced, so too was an increase in financial aid given to incoming freshmen. However, as financial aid grows, fewer students will be receiving financial scholarships, said Robert Chernak, Senior Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services.
Last year 360 merit-based scholarships were awarded to the incoming freshman class, but this year 300 or fewer will be given. About $2.5 million will be reallocated from merit-based to need-based aid, with a slight increase in the total aid that is distributed.
Chernak said there is a greater risk in not being able to admit students who are not able to afford tuition than losing those students who were attracted to GW because of the merit aid offered.
"(GW) is not just for the upper class," he said. "This has to be a school that accommodates all types of folks."
Chernak said another motivation for the shift to more need-based aid is the decline in federal need-based aid.
"In order for us to remain competitive, we have to be realistic and understand what is happening in the market place," he said.
Russell Ramsey, the current vice chairman of the Board of Trustees who will be assuming the position of chairman in July, was also supportive of the shift.
"We're in a changing economic time and you have to be sympathetic to our families that have qualified students who want to come here but don't have the financial means," he said. "So it's a balancing game."
Bobbie Greene Kilberg, the vice chair of the committee on student affairs of the Board of Trustees, questioned the decrease in merit aid.
She said, "I think merit aid is increasingly important in an admissions setting to get the best and brightest kids."
-David Ceasar contributed to this report.