Communicating GW’s cost is one of the greatest challenges facing the institution, University President Steven Knapp said last week in an interview with The Hatchet.
GW’s high sticker price – which was the first in the country to surpass $50,000 – is deceiving, Knapp said. He added that the mainstream media ignores GW’s fixed tuition and financial aid, often looking only for simple indicators that apply to all institutions.
“It’s hard to win that with the media because it’s hard to get them to tell the whole story, especially if they’re going for that kind of shock effect,” Knapp said.
Under GW’s fixed tuition plan, incoming students pay the same tuition every year they attend the University. Housing and food costs are not fixed. When fixed tuition was implemented in the 2004-2005 school year, tuition rose 16 percent – compared to the normal 3 to 4 percent increase.
“(The media) didn’t look at the four-year tuition or five-year tuition. They only looked at that initial sticker price and that’s the part that’s a little bit misleading,” he said.
Knapp said he has no plans to discontinue fixed tuition. Overall affordability is his primary focus.
“(W)e’re not ultimately interested in the media. What we’re ultimately interested in is our students and making sure they can come here,” Knapp said.
About 60 percent of undergraduates receive some financial aid, and GW has the highest average need-based aid package in the country – according to U.S. News and World Report.
Knapp said he hopes to increase the amount of scholarship grants given out, rather than burden students with loans and debt.
He also asked his senior staff to research ways to increase the affordability of the University. Tuition, housing, financial aid and fundraising are among the key areas of interest, he said, but lowering the current tuition is not an option.
Lou Katz, the executive vice president and treasurer, said affordability is a high priority in all departments leading up to the next Board of Trustees meeting in February.
“As we go into this budget cycle, this will be a major priority at this institution,” Katz said.
Katz said the University is trying to keep annual tuition increases under control.
Annual tuition hikes have slowly decreased in recent years. In 2005, the tuition increased by 5 percent, but increases in the past two years were about 3 percent.
Former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg – who has defended GW’s price in the past – said he supports Knapp’s proposal but added that increased non-tuition revenue will be essential.
“I am 100 (percent) behind the initiative and congratulate Steve Knapp on his courage in coming forward as he has,” Trachtenberg wrote in an e-mail. “Now we need the (t)rustees, alumni and others to help him pay to make it happen.”
Currently about 56 percent of the operating budget is funded by tuition dollars. Knapp said an emphasis on fundraising will help alleviate this pressure on tuition revenue.
He added that his goal is to make GW more accessible to all students.
“Right now it’s making sure that it’s the students that actually come to the University – that they continue to reflect a broad, a very diverse range of students for us from all parts of the economic spectrum,” Knapp said. “And we don’t get the situation where we have students at one socioeconomic level who are coming here and others who aren’t because of the debt burden.”