Staff Editorial: High tuition fuels negative perceptions

Finally, GW is No. 1.

CNN’s ranking of GW tuition as the most expensive in the nation highlights myriad issues inherently associated with such exorbitant costs. Even if GW is not No. 1 in this regard, as administrators maintain, this University’s tuition is still among the highest in the country, promulgating the already-negative image of GW as an expensive, elitist institution. Ultimately, to provide the diverse educational experience admissions officers currently peddle to prospective students, University leadership must evaluate the impact of such a high tuition – both on logistics and perceptions – and study possible alternatives.

University administrators maintain that the CNN ranking is skewed because it neglects to account for GW’s fixed-tuition plan. Theoretically, GW’s fixed-tuition rates are meant to average out against the total four-year cost at comparable universities.

A review of the numbers from several institutions similar to GW, however, shows that this analysis may not be entirely accurate. For each of the other schools reviewed, the total fixed tuition that GW students paid over the past three years still outpaces the total tuition students at other schools paid during the same time period. This chart presents and discusses the numbers in greater detail.

Regardless of the validity of administrators’ claims about the benefits of fixed-tuition, the CNN study still promulgates a negative perception of GW due to its tuition. Media framing of GW as a high-priced, elitist institution is now a reality; a recent New York Times article accounted the extravagant spending and activities at last month’s Colonials Weekend in a story about elaborate parents’ weekends.

This perception of GW probably overshadows, in some cases, other mitigating economic factors at the University. For example, the University awards a substantial amount of scholarship money, offsetting the high price. Potential applicants, however, may be turned off from applying at all if they are confronted with statistics that only point to the expensive nature of the school. In addition, stellar students from lower-class backgrounds might perceive GW’s elitist image to be prohibitive culturally as well as financially.

Aside from the perception of GW’s costs, there are realities that accompany high tuition fees. There are limitations of the ability of scholarship money to attract a wide variety of students from a number of different cultural and economic backgrounds. The reality of high tuition is that it can, and will, attract an increasing number of wealthier students, decreasing both educational access and the educational experience at GW.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who has frequently mentioned his desire that GW produce global citizens, will be remembered in part for leaving this University with one of the highest tuitions in the country. His often-stated goal indeed conflicts with his legacy of a high tuition, as students from varied backgrounds find it more and more difficult to enter the GW educational environment.

Perhaps one of the most unsettling aspects of GW’s high costs is the administration’s refusal to consider lowering them. Instead, the stated primary goal is an annual decrease in the percentage rise in tuition. While any lowering of costs will benefit students, the campus community deserves an honest investigation of possible benefits of a tuition cut versus the impact to programs and services.

While students benefit from the plethora of services and opportunities associated with exorbitant tuition, the CNN report showcases the perception of GW as an exclusive and expensive institution. Just as many potential students cannot afford to attend GW, the University cannot afford to lose these potential students. An investigation into a possible tuition reduction may help combat such a perception without immediately hampering the University’s continued improvement.

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