Andrew Pazdon: Another year, another 3 percent

To quote the poet-philosophers Three-6 Mafia, “another day, another dollar,” and to paraphrase the George Washington University Board of Trustees – with enhanced street flair – “another year, another couple thousand dollars.”

Without fail, the time of year when budgets across the world are unveiled is once again upon us. This year, the GW community is greeted with an unsurprising tuition increase of 3 percent for the forthcoming 2010-2011 academic year. For the most part, this event of increased tuition is uneventful and has likely been planned for some time. No doubt there will be the inexorable groans from this modest announcement.

The truth is, this tuition hike is a rather humdrum occurrence and merely a continuation of the University’s pre-ordained plan for growth.

No truly sane person enjoys seeing the price of goods and services rise even if such an event is accompanied by an increase in wages or income. But price increases are a fact of life in our modern world. That is, of course, except for 2008, when the Consumer Price Index was essentially flat with inflation at 0.01, meaning there was no growth and average prices did not increase.

In 2009, tuition at GW rose by its standard annual amount of 3 percent. There was no adjustment for the economy except for increasing financial aid by $13 million. This naturally begs the question of whether or not the University is at all responsive to any world except its own. I have lambasted the University in the past for adding extra notches to its belt, instead of tightening it like the rest of the world but, I must admit, GW employs some smart accountants and economists. By funding most of the budget with tuition income, and not drawing from reserves, GW has managed to weather this financial crisis using a system similar to the pay-as-you-go scheme of budgeting, recently resurrected by President Obama.

GW’s, and many other colleges’ tuitions and room and board prices, all border on criminality. After all, I could buy a new BMW 5 series every year for four years, or purchase a house after my time spent at GW. But disregarding the insane base price, GW’s tuition increases are relatively on par with peer institutions over four years of education.

In GW’s tuition self-comparison to an unknown group of 41 other peer institutions, the total tuition cost for a GW student entering in fall 2006 was less expensive than seven other schools after four years. In my own nonscientific research, I compared GW’s class of 2010 tuition total to its counterparts at Georgetown, Boston, New York, and Northwestern universities. Needless to say, GW still had a higher tuition than these four by about $6,000. It may sound crazy, but considering the overall cost of college these days, $6,000 is a drop in the bucket.

GW also leads all of my test institutions and just about ties with Georgetown in the average financial package awarded, according to The College Board. Also according to the College Board, GW meets on average about 92 percent of need, which is impressive but not quite Northwestern’s 100 percent of need met. The saddest marking for GW is that it and NYU lead the pack of compared universities with an average graduation debt of $30,000.

The above calculations involve more math than I’ve done since high school algebra. But after crunching the numbers, two points become clear: yes, GW is quite insanely expensive – but comparable schools are not really that far behind.

I may jest that GW is a real-estate investment trust disguised as a University; that GW could trim a lot of needless pork fat from its operations; and that academics could be placed on a higher pedestal than, say, parking garages. But the University manages to get the job done. They are mindful that not everyone can afford stupidly high prices and have accompanied their 3 percent tuition increases with at least $10 million in new aid. And somewhere in their budget, I even spied the phrase that the University should strive to be “affordable.”

In the end, all is quiet on the Foggy Botton front. Save for snowfall, our sheltered lives go on despite continued financial uncertainty in the real world. Most importantly, GW’s pay-as-you-go scheme ensured that in the darkest hours of Snowmageddon, hot chocolate was flowing from the Herot-like halls of the Marvin Center.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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