The Board of Trustees Friday attempted to confront the affordability of attending GW by presenting several recommendations that aim to undo the stigma associated with the University’s price tag. While we applaud the Board and University President Steven Knapp for beginning this crucial conversation, the affordability plan revealed fails to put any groundbreaking changes on the table.
First it is necessary to commend the willingness of the Board and Knapp to open the conversation of affordability and cost with the GW community. Of course, impressive moves at the national level from the likes of Harvard and Yale universitiers have pressed schools across the nation to participate in the tuition debate. Last year after the spring Board meeting, this page called for GW administrators to acknowledge the University’s daunting price tag. Knapp’s administration has broken with past tradition by making this issue a central interest in the first year of his tenure.
The five-year plan to address affordability and cost is primarily based on three central measures. The University hopes to increase fundraising from $10 million to $40 million per year to supplement student aid, increasing institutional grant availability by $6 million and attempting to reduce the average debt burden at the time of graduation by 30 percent for incoming freshmen demonstrating need. All of these measures are to be commended, but leave many questions to be answered.
Although several of these measures are still unclear, those that have been articulated are not without concern. The University is publicizing a $6 million increase in grants for the incoming class. The overall available grant funds have remained consistent with the previous year. The additional funds for the incoming freshman class come as a direct result of the graduation of this year’s much larger senior class, University spokesperson Tracy Schario told The Hatchet. This measure seems to have resulted through sheer happenstance instead of any concerted effort.
Further, the University has publicized the addition of $30 million to GW aid through fundraising efforts. This page is concerned about the possibility that this fundraising goal may not be achieved. It is foreseeable that without the additional fundraising, the overall plan will fail. However, Schario has stated that failing to meet this goal would not affect the rest of the affordability plan. This calls into question the necessity of the additional fundraising dollars as well as the optimism displayed by this administration.
Also of concern is the continuing trend to shift funds from merit-to need-based aid. This past year, the University redirected $2.5 million from merit to need assistance. Knapp’s proposal places an emphasis on shifting aid programs to need-based assistance but fails to offer any specific figures on how much will be allocated to merit-based aid programs, a detail that significantly impacts the academic quality of incoming students. Without thousands of dollars of merit aid, the University may fail to remain competitive with the other options available to talented students.
The fact is, we do not have the details of this plan. The administration must be clear and forthcoming with the GW community about how these plans will be successfully put into action to truly impact affordability.
This article appeared in the February 11, 2008 issue of the Hatchet.