University President Steven Knapp joined Eric Hoover, a senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, at The Atlantic’s second annual Education Summit at GW last week. The three discussed contributing factors and potential solutions to the rising price of higher education.
Knapp said although costs of private institutions like GW are rising, they have risen about one eighth the amount of tuition at public universities has risen, considering returned financial aid funds. He said the media often focus on the high costs at elite universities, overlooking defunding state institutions.
“I actually think that is a national crisis,” Knapp said. “And I think it often gets obscured when it gets conflated with what happens at elite institutions which do have ample resources that they can return in student aid.”
Knapp highlighted ways that GW is helping students and families identify opportunities to make college affordable, like fixed tuition and the Trachtenberg Scholarship program, which awards local high school students with full-ride scholarships to GW each year.
Knapp said that after attending a conference at the White House on college affordability in 2014, he pledged to do more outreach to help families find scholarships.
“Families who have no previous experience going to college need some help in understanding where those opportunities are, how they can even fill out the forms,” Knapp said.
Knapp credited unfunded mandates from the government with contributing to the rising cost of education. He said initiatives that require an increase in staff, like turning out crime and fire reports and handling sexual assault complaints add costs to a operating a university.
“Each one of these things is well-intentioned and you can understand the rationale for it, but every time you do one of these things, you add to it,” Knapp said. “The money’s got to come from somewhere, there’s no question that these compliance requirements are part of the picture.”
Knapp said competition is fueled by national rankings lists. He criticized U.S. News and World Report’s annual list for ranking institutions based on how much money they spend on students. He said that university rankings on this list correspond almost directly with the size of their endowments. GW’s rank fell three spots last year.
“There’s no evidence that that’s a better pedagogical model than other models,” Knapp said. “You’re rewarding an industry for being inefficient. I think that’s a problem.”