Tution hikes cause backlash

A recent congressional bill seeking to reign in tuition hikes has come under fire from University officials who defended tuition increases as a way to improve academics and student life.

The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives in mid-October by Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), was crafted in response to $30,000 tuition bills at private universities. It would penalize institutions that raise tuition at more than twice the rate of inflation over a three-year period.

While GW has not taken an official stance on the bill, officials said it would have little effect on GW and criticized McKeon for not seeing the benefits of raising tuition.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said the bill, if passed, would have a “relatively benign” effect on GW because the percentage of its tuition increases is not double the inflation rate.

Since 2001, GW’s tuition has increased by 10.2 percent; the inflation rate over the same time period is 6.5 percent, according to Federal Reserve statistics. Tuition at Boston and Georgetown universities increased by 11.1 and 10.2 percent, respectively, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Anything that goes in as revenue is returned to those who attend the University,” Chernak said. Starting with the 2005-06 academic year, universities that institute increases in violation of the bill would need to provide explanations for the increases to parents and students, as well as formulate plans for managing costs.

Failure to comply with the bill could result in the loss of Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and other federal aid.

Vartan Djihanian, McKeon’s press secretary, said the bill would help students cope with the escalating costs of going to college.

McKeon has recently amended his bill to ensure that low-cost colleges, such as state universities, that raise their tuition would be exempt from any sanctions, Djihanian said.

The American Council on Education, which is lobbying on GW’s and other universities’ behalf against the bill, said the bill takes decision-making power away from universities.

Critics also contend that the bill would harm low- and middle-income students by forcing universities to reduce financial aid.

“Unfortunately, this proposal is going to add to these problems by … driving colleges and universities to reduce financial aid to needy students,” said Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.) in a press release.

The bill would also make it easier for transfer students to have credits carry over from one university to the other by centralizing accreditation. Currently, several federal and state bodies oversee accreditation.

“Congressman (McKeon) has been talking to institutions of higher education, the government and parents and students throughout the making of this bill,” Djihanian said, adding that McKeon “will continue to listen, to get as many solutions to this problem as possible.”

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