University no longer most expensive

Editor’s note: GW’s cost extends beyond tuition

After two years as the most expensive college in the country, GW has given up the top spot to Sarah Lawrence College, University officials confirmed this week.

Sarah Lawrence, located in Bronxville, N.Y., now tops the list at $53,166 for tuition and required expenses during the 2008-2009 academic year, followed by Georgetown at $50,557. GW takes third with a total cost of $50,357, according to a list compiled by the private consulting firm Cambridge Associates.

Sarah Lawrence announced their new tuition in March, but it received little attention until this week, when the Campus Grotto blog published a list of the country’s most expensive schools. The blog put GW at No. 2, but University spokeswoman Tracy Schario later confirmed the No. 3 slot with Cambridge Associates, which the University frequently consults for these rankings.

The new position comes as welcome news to University officials who have battled against the “most expensive University” label for years.

“I think it will be good if media coverage now catches up with reality and fairly reports that we are not the most expensive institution,” University President Steven Knapp said. “Our focus needs to be on access and affordability and getting the right information out to prospective students and their families.”

Knapp has repeatedly said improving GW’s affordability is a major priority, and he helped launch a five-year plan last February to address increasing tuition and rising costs.

“My focus is on making sure that our students and their families can afford the kind of educational experience GW offers,” Knapp said. “That was why we took a number of steps last year aimed at lowering the cost of attendance.”

As part of Knapp’s plan, the University plans to increase fundraising for financial aid from $10 million to $40 million per year as well as continue the sibling discount of 50 percent.

GW is one of about 30 schools in the country with a fixed-tuition program, which locks in the undergraduate tuition for up to five years, but can make the school appear more expensive than other institutions.

When the University implemented fixed tuition in 2004 and tuition was raised about 13 percent, applications fell for the first time in nine years – following a period of exponential growth, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Planning. Since then, applications have remained stagnant at about 20,000.

“We have not seen any decline in the number of applications as a result of the current policy,” Knapp said, adding that the Board of Trustees will continue to review fixed tuition each year and that there are no current plans to eliminate the policy.

Schario said that fixed tuition has received positive feedback because it allows families to more “predictably budget” for a college education.

“They know the tuition will not increase from year to year and it gives them a sense of predictability,” Schario said.

Senior Vice President of Academic and Student Support Services Robert Chernak, who oversees the admissions department, said he did not think the rankings affect the number of applications the University receives.

“Whether you are first, second or seventh, there is still a serious economic consideration,” Chernak said. “The difference between the top 10 is not significant. A couple thousand dollars on $50,000? That’s not the make-or-break point.”

Chernak said the University was focused on “maintaining modest increases in tuition, keeping fixed tuition and pumping in student financial aid.”

He added, “I think in time we will drop farther in rankings – even with fixed tuition. We have a long-term strategy.”

Related: GW’s cost extends beyond tuition (Oct. 30)

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