SA leaders plan affordability survey to identify hidden costs

by Monica Mercuri | Hatchet Reporter

Media Credit: Lisa Blitstein | Hatchet Photographer
The Student Association is conducting a survey to help identify hidden costs for students. The SA Senate passed an affordability resolution earlier this semester and has been working on making the student experience more affordable.

The Student Association will be sending out an affordability survey on Dec. 7 to determine students’ top financial concerns.

The survey will be distributed and collected over winter break from undergraduate and graduate students through the SA’s email Listserv and social media accounts. SA leaders said the survey results will help the group better understand which issues should be their top priorities when passing bills to help make campus life more affordable.

SA Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno said the survey will include questions about smaller, daily costs, rather than asking student about big costs, like housing or tuition.

“We really hope to be able pinpoint costs we can focus on reducing while working with administrators,” Falcigno said.

The survey will focus on questions about which academic costs are the biggest burdens, like course fees and textbooks, and student life fees, like health center costs and fitness passes at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center, Falcigno said.

Students will provide background information, like gender, ethnicity, year and school so the SA can understand which groups of students struggle the most to pay extra costs, he said.

“We are going to get a better idea of what types of groups are spending more money, and which groups really need help," Falcigno said. "But also, we are trying to figure out where student money is being spent that is otherwise not provided by the University.”

Falcigno added that the SA may extend the survey until after winter break, depending on the number of responses received. If the surveys are completed and analyzed over winter break, the results could be included into the affordability reports created by SA committees.

Those reports will explain student costs in areas like academics and student organizations and recommend solutions for reducing the costs. SA leaders will present the reports to administrators in January and February.

Sen. Logan Malik, U-at-large, said at an SA Senate meeting on Nov. 21 that students at GW often face higher costs than students at peer universities because they must pay for extraneous costs other universities include in tuition or housing charges.

“We pay more in areas including key replacement, printing and laundry,” Malik said.

For example, a color copy at GW costs $0.85 while the same copy costs $0.50 for each page at University of Maryland, according to UMD's printing website. These costs add up, especially for students who receive financial aid, Malik said.

Malik added that GW's meal plans lack variety and the University does not offer partnerships with local transportation agencies to reduce students' fare.

American University is currently piloting an unlimited bus and rail University pass with the Metro, where students can ride the metrorail and Metrobus for reduced rates – a program GW officials rejected earlier this year.

Financial aid experts said that, with the right questions, a student survey would be an effective way of gauging students' financial burdens.

Jamey Rorison, a senior research analyst at the the Institute of Higher Education Policy, said incoming students, especially those from low-income families, often do not consider costs beyond tuition, room and board.

“Few people think about all other associated costs related to transportation and the other living expenses,” Rorison said. “For students who rely on every penny of financial aid funding they receive to pay college costs, the idea of an expensive Metro ride or load of laundry or meal could be prohibitive.”

In 2015, the SA pledged to focus on advocating for reductions in the cost of these additional fees, like finding cheaper textbook options.

Rorison added that while a student survey could be an effective way of getting feedback, the SA should make sure they ask respectful questions to reduce response bias and answer the survey questions falsely because they think the honest answer is not socially acceptable.

“I also would encourage them to ask questions about the respondents that will help better understand how perspectives on the issues differ,” Rorison said. “Students who already have the resources to pay these extra costs not perceiving them to be burdensome is very different from students with more financial obstacles feeling the same way.”

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