David Ceasar: For what it’s worth

Staring down the final weeks of a college career, undoubtedly there are questions about the next step in life. While this personal reflection is expected and healthy, it behooves us to also actively explore the University that helped shape us, whether in the graduation survey, faculty evaluations or phone calls to administrators. Thousands of soon-to-be graduates have years of complaints pent up inside them.

Some have written letters to the editor to this publication or posted on a blog or spoken up at a Student Association meeting. But Foggy Bottom also holds a silent majority of students going about their everyday lives with questions festering inside them: Why are administrators forcing me to eat somewhere that’s not open when I’m free to eat, such as at night and on the weekend? Everyone I know has Strep throat, but Student Health won’t take walk-ins, and they’re located off campus? I spent all this money to come here, and now there’s a graduation fee on top of all that in order to leave?

People are angry. They are bitter. The stress of exams and the realization that friends are moving away only exacerbates the direness of these times for graduating students. Many will reflect on the gifts of a GW education, as well, but a lingering question is in the backs of their minds. The mammoth of them all: How can it really cost $50,000 to go here for what I got out of it?

This question hits at the heart of the larger question about bang for your buck – the personal value derived from attending GW pitted against its sheer cost. Admittedly, not everyone spends that much. The University awards about three of five students institutional financial assistance through need and merit-based aid. The unlucky students paying full sticker price are still joined by many of their peers in reminiscing and critically considering the worth of attending this University.

This problem extends well beyond the outgoing class; rather, the attention should more appropriately be focused on the incoming class. Eighteen-year-olds and their parents are savvier than ever in researching prospective colleges. A cursory reading of The Hatchet’s online content over several issues will likely present a substantive critique of GW’s flaws. A quick glance at U.S. News & World Report rankings in recent years will illustrate a stasis in the University’s national stature.

As noted in a Faculty Senate report earlier this month, the quality of admitted students has declined in the past couple years. The trend – if that is unfortunately what it is – is frightening.

So few competitive students applied last year that admissions officials reduced the freshman class by 221. The students on the waiting list had such weak records, in comparison to what administrators hoped for, that admissions targets were thrown out the window. And while fewer students are being admitted overall, of those, fewer are from the upper echelons of high school success.

High school seniors simply will not enroll if they feel a GW education is not worth the cost.

The administration must step forward to reverse this hemorrhaging of student quality. University President Steven Knapp may only have assumed his role last summer, but being billed as the academic-president, he needs to come to the forefront on this issue. He rightfully has made affordability a top concern of his tenure, but his actions need to be swift.

Too many students will leave the National Mall in three weeks with a bad taste in their mouths about what they got out of GW, in comparison to its cost. The way to win these alumni back is to improve their alma mater. Make it not only more affordable for future generations of Colonials, but also more academically rigorous and more student-friendly in its services.

Our time here is more than an amalgamation of past questions, concerns and doubts. It is also about mulling our future, and that future is intimately linked to the caliber of GW. Our degree and résumé line listing George Washington University will determine the answers to questions – questions such as where do we go from here, what doors will open themselves to us and how far can we go in life?

In working through these uncertainties, take a moment in your last few weeks to help the school evolve. Tell a professor how to make his class better for the fall. E-mail an administrator about a bureaucratic headache you encountered last year. Fill out the painfully tedious graduation survey with substantive thoughts.

Your future is riding on it.

The writer, a graduate student pursuing a master’s in political management, is The Hatchet’s senior editor.

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