It is common knowledge around Foggy Bottom, and the rest of the world for that matter, that we Colonials go to the most expensive school in the nation. While overly evident at GW, high tuition rates are a national issue that Congress has been trying to fix for several years now – along with healthcare, Social Security, the deficit and most American problems. A 2007 report from the College Board found the average tuition increased 6.3 percent from the previous year nation-wide.
Most recently, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has floated the idea of mandating universities to put forward a percentage of their endowments to fund financial aid programs. The plan is certainly a good starting point, not unlike the first 18 games of the New England Patriots’ 2007 season. Just like any Patriots fan would tell you, though, that sort of plan is incomplete without achieving the final goal.
Education reform certainly needs to get done soon, but it cannot simply come in the form of federal government mandates. Three key players should be part of the give and take: the government, universities and the students themselves.
I certainly do not see a real problem with forcing universities to use their money to do what most universities set out to accomplish: educate. Universities should be offering more than just 4 or 5 percent of their endowments to scholarships or financial aid packages. For GW and our $1.147 billion endowment, $46 million went to operating costs – and only $2 million, or 4.3 percent, went towards financial aid.
Yet GW and University President Steven Knapp seem to be on the way to addressing these issues, and thankfully so. At their meeting last Friday, the Board of Trustees announced a $6 million increase in need-based institutional grants and approval of a five-year plan to quadruple fundraising for student aid per year from $10 million to $40 million. It is a start, but GW has a long way to go to repair not only our image, but our actual ability to provide opportunities for interested and qualified students. The more students given the opportunity to learn the better off our country will be – just ask Miss South Carolina.
Our federal government also needs to help carry this burden, though. While Grassley’s plan increases the amount of money that could possibly go into higher education, he forgets that he sits on the board of the biggest bank in the U.S. While the cap on Pell Grants has recently increased, that cap and the number of grants can certainly use a second boost. The fact that so many students are left with no other option than to graduate with thousands upon thousands of dollars of debt is not only an epidemic, but shameful. Responsible spending elsewhere, also known as Middle East-where, could free up a significant amount of money for such a plan.
Students must be invested in their own education. While we are the ones receiving the aid, that does not mean we should forget about why we are getting it or who is helping us achieve our goals. We are already a generous generation: we willingly sign up for paychecks at discounted rates because we believe that teaching in inner cities or traveling abroad to build homes for the less fortunate are noble causes.
If we were to participate in these programs conditionally on our financial aid, we might quicken the process of changing the world. For many of us, we would only be required to do what we originally planned. Everyone else would be expanding their education into real life experiences that are irreplaceable.
We would be living John F. Kennedy’s desire; we would literally be doing what we could for our country, whether building houses in New Orleans or improving our world image by constructing roads in Latin America.
So while Grassley’s approach is sound, it is only one-third of a comprehensive education policy. Congress should examine the merits of an approach that calls on students, as well as institutions of government and higher learning when deliberating how to change and control the outrageous cost of an education.
The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.