Fixed tuition will allow for earlier increases

Officials said the University’s fixed pricing plan adopted last month for incoming freshmen would allow GW to announce yearly tuition increases sooner.

Under the plan, approved by the University’s Board of Trustees Feb. 6, incoming students will pay $34,000 a year in tuition during their four or five years at GW. Room and board costs for next year’s freshman class will still be subject to yearly increases.

While initially making GW one of the most expensive universities in the nation, the $34,000 price tag should ultimately be comparable to tuition at other private institutions that institute yearly tuition hikes to counter inflation and cover expenses.

Current students are not affected by the plan and will likely continue to see their tuition rise at the board’s winter meeting. By adopting a fixed pricing plan, however, officials are hoping to announce future tuition increases for incoming classes before the December Early Decision deadline.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said announcing the tuition increase before applications are due would make paying for GW more predictable for parents and students.

He added that it would also give GW an edge over other universities that typically don’t announce their tuition until February or March.

“Tuitions (could) be announced earlier and that is another advantage for consumers because we will be in the market with known tuition costs prior to our competition,” he said.

Currently, officials approve tuition for incoming classes at the February meeting of the Board of Trustees, the University’s highest decision-making body.

GW is one of the first universities in the nation to adopt a fixed tuition plan, which officials said would eliminate the uncertainty surrounding college costs that have escalated in the last decade. The University has raised tuition by an average of 4.6 percent in the last five years.

“It is our belief that by a family knowing what the costs will be over the next four years can plan financially accordingly,” Chernak said.

Incoming students eligible for financial assistance will be guaranteed a minimum aid package during their entire stay at GW, as will freshman with a sibling also attending the University. Currently, a student whose brother or sister attends GW loses the financial assistance upon the sibling’s graduation.

“As long as it works, we think that you are going to see a lot of other schools emulate us if it turns out to be successful and then it is not going to be quite as unique,” Chernak said.

Following the plan’s adoption, the University notified students already admitted under the Early Decision process and regular decision plan.

Kathryn Napper, director of undergraduate admissions, said families and high school guidance counselors have been “fairly positive” about the fixed tuition, and they “see this as a step in the right direction in helping families better manage their finances and plan for college.”

Chernak said the University has had a limited amount of feedback from parents of students already accepted to GW. He said the approximately 15 phone calls and e-mails GW received about the plan were all “non-controversial.”

One father of an incoming student touring the University last week said paying a locked tuition would not make a difference in paying for college because GW costs will always be exorbitant.

Roger Auerbach, of Portland, Ore., whose daughter will be a freshman at GW next fall, said fixed tuition “would not have been an incentive to having our daughter go to GW because whatever the bill is, it is going to be huge, and we are going to pay.”

Auerbach’s wife, Devorah Lieberman, a vice president at Wagner College in New York, said her college thought about a fixed tuition plan but never adopted it because it would’ve created animosity between students in different classes.

“Students talk to one another, and we don’t want some students feeling they got a better deal because they came in a different year,” she said.

But Chernak said fixed pricing would keep the cost differences between different classes more “normalized” and that freshmen already pay higher tuition than upperclassmen.

The University is committed to a fixed tuition for the incoming freshmen classes of 2004 and 2005, said Chernak, who noted that officials would not be able to evaluate the fixed pricing plan until next year’s application process.

He said, “The real test is starting the recruiting cycle for freshmen entering fall 2005.”

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