Conventional wisdom says that on the tuition issue, everyone loses. The students never get what they want (more value for their tuition dollar), while administrators appears to be greedy businessmen bent on squeezing every dollar out of students. The facts support this: Tuition has increased 28 percent during the last six years, and the mysterious “student fee” has increased a whopping 293 percent.
While tuition and fees are up, financial aid is down. Total academic merit aid was reduced by two million dollars from 1995-1996, resulting in 300 less students receiving academic merit aid. The amount of tuition paid for by grants and scholarships in total decreased by 11 percent while the amount of tuition paid for by student loans increased by 31 percent and the amount of tuition paid for by parent loans increased by 39 percent.
While the administration increased tuition and decreased per student financial aid, it also demanded that academic departments reduce their adjunct faculty budgets by 18 percent. These orders had the effect of increasing class sizes as well as the student to faculty ratio. Basically, while paying for school, the quality of education actually is decreasing. Don’t believe me? Check the information out for yourself. It’s in GW’s archives on the second floor of the under-funded Gelman Library.
Obviously there is a problem.
The Student Association has conceded the fact that tuition will rise each year, often at levels above what students find acceptable. Our new strategy is to have input in where the money goes. At a university like GW, controlling the money is tantamount to controlling the direction of the institution. President Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar set up a tuition commission, headed by Rusty Stahl, which has been busy soliciting student input on what budgetary priorities they believe their money should be spent on.
Planning for future years has also been a priority of the SA. The SA Senate is considering an addition to its bylaws requiring the SA to work on the tuition issue every year in a standardized way. This bylaw will allow students to speak about the tuition issue coherently and as a unified body. Whether or not the administration listens, the students will be talking. As student leaders, this is the responsible course of action, one that should have been taken long ago.
However much the SA is doing this year to voice student concerns, it should leave us all a bit unsatisfied. A system designed to solicit student input is useless unless the administration listens. But why should the administration listen? Why should they care?
Some contend that the way to make the administration care is by building a grassroots movement that can’t be ignored, one capable of causing great unpleasantness if not recognized. Having gone down that path, we can say that at GW, that does not work. The school of thought we now subscribe to is a more intellectual one. The tide of history is on our side, not because we are students at GW in 1997, but rather because we are educated consumers.
The intellectual underpinning of the tuition input movement is this: Undergraduates and most graduate students today are a generation that grew up in the age of high consumerism, which we are very much living in today. Our society creates needs for itself through savvy marketing and then fulfills those needs in every possible color and size.
Some said that the age of high consumerism would produce passive consumers who take what they are given and like it because they were told they would. However, the intellectual element of our generation (which every GW student is a part of, believe it or not) realizes that consumerism is a two-way street. As discerning consumers, we get what we want, not what we are given. To us, buying everything from a burrito to a car is a dialogue between the producer and the consumer. When we purchase anything, we take ownership in it, now and forever. We expect nothing less than this from those who are producing and selling to us our $20,000 a year education.
Education was never regarded as something that was bought and sold until brilliant college administrators decided to make the cost of higher education in a four-year private institution outrageously expensive. Once this happened, universities such as GW had to commit to elaborate marketing in order to make a $100,000 dollar investment in education seem worth it.
In a very real sense the tuition issue of the late 1990s is an example of the chickens coming home to roost. Students have been turned into consumers of a marketed product and the University administrations are a producer. In such a paradigm, students have the right to make their grievances known to the administration, and the administration has the responsibility to address these grievances.
It is with this understanding of the tuition issue that we urge every student to utilize the SA to voice our collective demands to the University administration. On Friday, Dec. 5, student leaders will meet with University administrators to present to them the findings of the Student Budgetary Priority project. Using the process established this year, the SA will conduct future surveys such as this to gauge students’ budgetary priorities.
By airing our grievances to the administration in a responsible and coherent way, the students of GW will be able to establish an equitable relationship with University administrators and finally take ownership in the institution that is educating us.
-The writers are, respectively, chair of the SA Senate Student Life Committee and director of the Tuittion Committee.