Freshman pay fixed tuition for first time

Four years of challenging classes, endless opportunities and great times are what students preparing to come to college usually think of. Parents, on the other hand, have one other thing in mind: “How much will it cost?”

GW has sought to give parents some peace of mind by adopting a fixed tuition payment plan. The new policy comes after years of steadily increasing tuition and will guarantee that students will pay the same yearly tuition during their entire stay at GW.

Incoming freshmen will pay $34,000 per year to attend GW under the new plan. While GW’s tuition does offer stability in pricing, the new price tag is 16 percent higher than the cost paid by last year’s freshman class.

The plan also guarantees that students who received academic scholarships or need-based financial aid will get the same assistance packages during their undergraduate career. Housing and food costs, which increase by 2 to 3 percent each year, will not be fixed.

“This is really the first plan of its type since it combines fixed tuition and a financial aid guarantee,” said Robert Chernak, senior vice president of Student and Academic Support Services.

GW’s Board of Trustees, which approved the plan in February, felt that the decision would assuage parents’ and students’ concerns about escalating college costs, Chernak said. Tuition for current students increased by 5 percent this year to $30,820 for sophomores and $30,530 for upperclassmen.

In an interview earlier this year, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz pointed out that the plan would give GW a temporary revenue boost because it charges freshmen a higher tuition than it normally would. The new system should give GW an estimated $72 million in increased income.

But through inflation, the initially high tuition will be comparable or even lower than tuition at GW’s peer institutions, such as Boston University, when this year’s freshmen become upperclassmen.

Sara Hebel, a staff writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, said many public universities, such as the University of Illinois, have enacted fixed tuition programs, but GW is one of the first private institutions to adopt the policy.

“I think that the move is coming as a broader trend of public concern over rising tuitions,” Hebel said.

Although some universities offer fixed tuition plans, GW is one of the first universities in the country to combine a constant price with a financial aid package. Pace University, a private college in New York, freezes its tuition for incoming freshmen but does not guarantee a four-year financial aid plan.

With the locked tuition, an undergraduate education at GW carries perhaps the highest price tag in the country for freshmen, but University officials said that parents and students would still be attracted to GW.

“The ones that could be affording the full amount, when you’re talking about … a few thousand dollars difference … we don’t believe parents will make the decision not to come here,” Katz said, adding that he believes GW’s revamped financial aid packages will help decrease costs for some incoming students.

Members of the class of 2008 will spend about $3,000 more during a four-year education at GW with the fixed tuition plan than if the trend of 5 percent tuition increases continued during the next three years. Officials warned, however, that there is no guarantee that the rate of tuition hikes would remain stable in the near future.

Arthur McCann, director of the guidance department at Great Neck North High School in Long Island, which sent two students to GW last year, said the University’s pricing plan will be well-received by parents.

“If in the long run, if they felt this was going to be stable … it’d generally be perceived in a positive way,” McCann said.

Chernak said it will take “a couple of years” for the University to determine whether the new tuition program is beneficial for parents, students and GW.

“You might need two years of experience to see what the true impact was,” he said.

Chernak said officials will judge the new policy on a number of factors, including enrollment, revenue and the quality of students being accepted. In addition, the University will evaluate the quality of a student’s experience at GW under the new plan.

“Those are factors that far outweigh … whether you’re paying 42,000 (dollars) or 46,000 (dollars) a year,” he said.

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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