Knapp says high tuition is necessary

University President Steven Knapp defended GW’s high cost in front of a televised panel Wednesday, explaining that it takes a lot of money to operate a rapidly growing institution while also improving national rankings.

The forum held yesterday in Jack Morton Auditorium was broadcast live on C-SPAN, and included college administrators, public policy experts and students. They gathered to discuss the causes and effects of rapidly growing higher education costs and determine ways to alleviate student debt. CNN correspondent and GW professor Frank Sesno moderated the discussion, which was hosted by Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Knapp said GW cannot match the pricing changes recently implemented at several Ivy League schools because the University’s endowment is too small. Sesno had pointed to a plan at Stanford University where families with low incomes would not pay tuition.

“Stanford’s endowment is about 17 times the size as ours,” Knapp said. “We give probably the same amount of financial aid, it’s just that we don’t take it out of our endowment. We’re in this kind of cycle where we have to raise tuition to support student aid.”

In addition to high costs of operation coupled with a relatively small endowment, Knapp said rising energy bills and unfunded federal mandates have significantly contributed to high prices at GW. Many of these mandates were passed after Sept. 11 and require the school to monitor foreign student academic progress and report suspicious activity.

“Over the last 10 years, every year we have had to spend a million more dollars added to our compliance budget,” Knapp said.

He also pointed to the competitive ranking system as a catalyst for increased tuition. In order to receive a higher rank, he said, the University must spend much more money.

“Every one of the measures for which you get high marks in rankings in (U.S. News and World Report) works against cost saving. Every single one of them,” Knapp said, as he listed the various ways schools receive points, such as high expenditures, technological capabilities, and a low student-faculty ratio.

Knapp said he is also concerned with student debt upon graduation, aadding that he is especially concerned with how this could affect students in their lives after college.

“If a student graduates with a great deal of debt that he or she needed to pay for undergraduate education, it limits the kinds of careers that that student is likely to choose,” Knapp said. “I worry about the effects that could have on – for example – public service careers.”

And even though there has not been a decrease in applicants, Knapp said he worries that over time, such a price tag will discourage certain populations from considering higher education institutions like GW.

Bobby Allyn, one of the students on the panel, demonstrated how monetary burdens could force students to pursue alternative options. He explained that a financial adviser told him he should not consider a private university.

“She told me flat out it would be a rash decision for me to do anything but a community college, based on (my) financial situation,” said Allyn, now a sophomore at American. Though he now enjoys the focus on academic rigor he thought would be absent from a community college, Allyn said he will face up to $80,000 in debt upon graduation.

Knapp pointed out that there are ways to escape such debt. He said since his first day in office he has sought to reduce this burden, and pointed to his recently revealed plan to moderate tuition increases, lower freshman housing costs and increase financial aid to incoming students.

He also noted his goal to reduce the average student debt by one-third in the next five years – from $29,000 to $20,000.

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