Board passes 5 percent tuition hike

Citing the need to pay faculty and staff salaries and improve University services, the Board of Trustees approved a 5 percent tuition hike for current students Friday.

Rising sophomores will pay $30,820 in tuition next year, and upperclassmen will write checks for $30,530. Although housing and food costs have yet to be formulated, the total cost of attending GW will exceed $40,000 for current students without financial aid packages. The increase will bring in an extra $33 million, officials said.

The 35-member board also approved a fixed-pricing plan that will require incoming students to pay $34,000 in tuition during their four or five years as GW undergraduates (See “Freshmen to pay fixed tuition rate”).

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said that although tuition increases are tough on parents and students, they are needed to finance the University’s “enhancement.”

“We’re doing everything we can to hold prices down and maintain and improve quality,” said Trachtenberg, who added that tuition at most colleges has gone up every year since he was a student in 1955.

“Clearly, America has to look at this problem as a national issue,” he said. “It’s not something that can be solved at any university.”

Medical school students will see a 2.1 percent tuition hike next year, while graduate and Law School students face increases of 5 percent and 5.25 percent, respectively.

GW has raised tuition by an average of 4.6 percent during the last five years.

The University allocated an additional $14 million to undergraduate and graduate student financial aid and will dole out more than $123 million in awards next year. The University will also be allocating an additional 9.5 million toward academic affairs and $2.1 million toward student life – $800,000 of which is going to the Health and Wellness Center and the Marvin Center.

Some students said the tuition hike would make little difference in their total bill.

“I don’t care that much. I think if you can afford to pay $40,000 for tuition you can afford to pay $42,000,” sophomore Brie Waltman said.

Other students said the increase is needed to make up for University officials’ lack of financial planning, and that GW should become more transparent and disclose all of its expenditures.

“I think it’s not really unnecessary,” senior Larry Siedlesec said. “I think a lot of problems with the school’s finances have to do with mismanagement.”

Sophomore Meredith Blumoff criticized officials for raising tuition by twice the inflation rate, which the Federal Reserve measured at 1.9 percent in 2003.

Board of Trustees member Patrick Martin said the tuition increase was needed partly to increase faculty salaries by about 4 percent next year. Last year, officials instituted a faculty salary freeze to combat the effects of a sluggish economy.

“Higher education costs a lot of money,” Martin said. “I understand it’s a huge hardship for parents.”

The tuition increase will allow GW to boost library spending by $1.4 million and direct more funds to the University Writing Program, which will enter the second year of its implementation phase next fall.

In a Feb. 5 Hatchet article, University Librarian Jack Siggins said part of increased funds would be used to hire two librarians to teach research skills to writing course students.

“(Our) single most important priority period is supporting the academic excellence program,” Siggins said.

Board member Cissy Baker, chair of the trustees’ Student Affairs Committee, signaled her support for issuing random numbers to students instead of using their Social Security Numbers as a means of identification.

“There are not enough firewalls on earth to keep someone from hacking into a system and stealing students’ Social Security Numbers,” she said.

Baker said she was committed to changing students’ identification numbers but said officials need to look at other universities’ random ID systems before moving forward with the plan. Trachtenberg said the change would cost about $2 million.

“I feel certain it will happen,” said Baker in an interview after the meeting. “The board knows that it is an urgent problem and it has commanded the full attention of the board.

Two medical school professors delivered a presentation at Friday’s meeting to persuade the trustees to fund a new genomic center.

John Williams, University provost and vice president for health affairs, said genome research was “the future of healthcare, the future of medicine, without a doubt.”

Tuition increases at private and public universities across the country have led several lawmakers to support legislation that would punish colleges from raising tuition by more than double the inflation rate.

“By the end of the decade, if this continues … students will not be able to go to college, and this is unacceptable,” said Vartan Djihanian, press secretary for Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), a sponsor of a bill that would withhold federal aid from universities that enact huge tuition increases.

In previous Hatchet articles, University officials have railed against McKeon’s bill, which is being considered by a House of Representatives subcommittee.

-Bryn Lansdowne contributed to this report.

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