Universities across country hike tuition

GW’s decision to increase tuition reflects a trend at private and public universities across the country.

While yearly hikes are expected at most schools, some public university students may see tuition soar by as much as 15 percent this year because of state budget cuts.

With the fiscal problems of a medium-sized country, California has cut $29.9 million from its university system’s budget and implemented double-digit tuition hikes this year.

California’s legislature proposed a 10 percent tuition increase for next year, which would bring students’ average tuition to $6,028, said Hanan Eisenman, media coordinator for University of California President Robert Dynes. UC students will also see significant reductions in financial aid and the elimination of some outreach programs.

“This is part of the budget crisis that the state of California is facing,” Eisenman said.

He said UC fees are still “pretty low” compared to other state universities and that California officials have sought to preserve affordability at the state’s 10 campuses.

“We know that a lot of students and families are concerned about this,” he said.

Budget cuts at Northern Arizona University led officials to increase tuition by 39.2 percent last year to $3,596, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Northern Arizona’s president has proposed a 14.5 percent increase this year, which would bring students’ tuition to $3,983, according to a university press release.

Lisa Nelson, the university’s public affairs director, said the increase will allow Northern Arizona to cushion its operating budget and provide more financial aid to students.

“Obviously, there are some students who would be impacted, some more than others,” she said.

“The university has really struggled to balance the financial concerns of students and parents and the needs of the university, the quality of education,” she added.

Higher education experts characterized tuition increases at public universities as a significant blow to lower- and middle-class families but said universities needed to raise more revenue to offset a loss in state funding.

“It’s wrong to say these (increases) are too high,” said Jennifer Washburn, a fellow at the New America Foundation who is writing a book on the commercialization of higher education.

Tuition increases have allowed most public universities to allocate more money to students’ financial aid, Washburn said.

“It’s important to provide equal access … providing adequate grant and loan support,” she said.

However, private universities are competing in a “positional arms race” that has led some students’ tuition to exceed $30,000, Washburn said. GW students are paying $29,350 in tuition and fees this year.

Washburn said universities such as GW are building state-of-the-art gyms, concert halls and athletic arenas in an effort to one-up each other in the U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings.

“Institutions are trying to basically become the most elite institutions and most attractive to the most elite students,” she said.

Lawrence Gladeux, a freelance higher education consultant, said competition between universities and “the pressure to be the best” has led private universities to make significant upgrades in students’ standard of living, driving up costs.

“There’s a lot of this pressure to provide better services,” said Gladeux, who has served as an adviser to the College Board and the American Federation of Teachers.

Officials from private universities countered that tuition funds financial scholarships as well as the construction of new facilities.

Boston University, which implemented a 5 percent tuition hike last year, used its extra revenue to increase student loans and build a dormitory and engineering school, said Colin Riley, BU’s director of media relations.

The extra revenue will also go toward a new sports arena and recreation center, he said.

“Those facilities that we have, they were last built in the ’60s,” Riley said.

He also said the new facilities would help BU attract “outstanding students and faculty and researchers.”

The University of Pennsylvania has also used its tuition increase to dole out more financial aid to students, said Lori Doyle, the school’s vice president of communications.

“We continue to reduce the debt burden to our students,” she said.

A surge in applications allows private universities to raise tuition without having to worry about its impact on enrollment, Gladeux said. GW held a ceremony Wednesday afternoon to mark the first time the University received 20,000 undergraduate applications.

“(At) places like GW,” said Gladeux, “there’s so much demand for service that those institutions can charge much more than they do.”

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