Doug Cohen: Prioritizing classroom costs amid campus growth

The cost of college is under scrutiny once again.

Today, the topic under the microscope is university spending on academics. While some of us like to think that when we drop off our tuition bill, it goes immediately to cover our expenses alone – our classrooms, our professors, our instruction – there is a great deal of unrelated university spending we fund additionally with a tuition check.

Earlier this year, an economics professor found that the University invests less in academic instruction than any other area schools do.

Sobering as this is, GW investment on actual education also falls short of national averages, according to the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

GW spends markedly less on classroom education – it invests 31 percent of its tuition bill to instruction, while Georgetown University and American University invest 48 and 49 percent, respectively, according to professor Anthony Yezer. On a national level, average four-year private universities should be investing about $11,000 per tuition check in the classroom, according to the Center For College Affordability and Productivity.

GW invests a little over $8,000, Yezer found.

The University must ensure that its finances and resources are distributed in a manner that directly provides for classroom spending, for it is essential element to our education.

Yezer said a large reason for this is a result of the University shifting money away from its operating budget, which funds classrooms salaries, service and supplies, to its capital budget, which covers, “renovations and construction on campus, as well as paying off debt.”

This data is unsettling and could have serious consequences for the quality of our education in the future.

As GW has continued to expand, the numerous projects and undertakings that have served to improve this campus have been astounding. Facilities such as Ivory Tower, Townhouse Row and Pelham Hall, in addition to future plans to build the Science and Engineering Complex and a new Law School building, have undoubtedly served to improve the stature of the University and attract more students.

The University invests money in classrooms through a number of different means, such as fundraising. But in the end, students pay forth a tuition check to see their own money directed toward the classroom, and that’s not what happens at GW.

We must never lose sight of the value of our education, which occurs in the classroom alone.

It is likely that almost every dollar we shift away from classroom spending means that total funding on real education is being squeezed, for we simply do not have enough revenue sources to replace the difference.

While projects like the Science and Engineering Complex are not funded by tuition, the University increases its debt burden and diverts precious finances to complete such goals. This reduces the University’s ability to remain financially flexible, ultimately inhibiting its ability to re-invest in its students.

While there is a significant amount of money from fundraising that goes into academics, a lack of classroom funding from our most stable source of finances is still a cause for concern, particularly during difficult economic times.

GW should continue to improve campus, indeed, but somewhat lost in the excitement of expansion and modernization is the idea that a university’s primary focus is to provide a top-tier education for its students.

Doug Cohen, a sophomore majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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