GW must be more transparent with how it spends tuition dollars

For most students, GW’s price tag is a constant strain. Without financial aid, GW has a cost of attendance of more than $70,000 a year. Tuition, housing, books and meal plans quickly add up. However, a large portion of that bill, which is designated as “tuition,” is a seemingly financial black hole to students. A majority of GW’s cost of attendance is shelled under the ambiguous label, yet most students don’t have a clear idea of what that tuition money actually goes toward. Faculty pensions, building maintenance and class equipment are some of the logical places students might assume are supported by tuition payments.

But there are other areas and projects tuition dollars may go to. Just last month, GW spent $500,000 on University President Thomas LeBlanc’s inauguration. But the University’s problem with unnecessary extravagance and marketing is not new. GW has recognized and altered its ways before, developing a more modest orientation years ago after being criticized for lavish features – including lasers, casino nights, ice cream socials and engraved chocolates on pillows. Even with all that gone, GW just can’t seem to shake their profligate marketing. Just this past April, when I went to open my mail to get my acceptance letter, I took out a hefty cardstock folder, complete with shiny gold lining and my own graduation cap topper. In reality, marketing expenses like that have have little substance and impact on a student’s college decision.

GW fails to address more serious problems like cuts to the arts programs or student food insecurity.

It’s not a secret that GW can spend extravagantly, whether it be through funding humongous inauguration parties or something as small as printing fancy admissions folders. As a student who was educated within the public school system all my life, this apparent extravagance at the hands of a private institution is foreign and even appalling to me. Students and their families work hard for their money, and thousands have made immense financial sacrifice to be able to attend GW, including dipping into savings and taking out student loans that can surmount to crippling debt. The University has a duty to not only be more transparent with how it budgets tuition dollars, but also strive to be more fiscally responsible with the money we spend to attend.

The University publishes a yearly budget online under the University Budget Office, but this is a bare-bones outline at best. The ambiguous “Purchased Services” acquire a hefty $175,000 in costs, while almost $38,000 is designated to “Other,” and no description is given for what these categories entail. The University lacks transparency concerning how exactly its revenue is being spent, and this needs to change. As students who pay tuition to this institution, we have a right to know exactly where the University is choosing to invest tuition. There is no justification for GW’s lack of willingness to bring its financial endeavors to light. Other institutions of higher education like Purdue University have offices specifically dedicated to financial transparency, while Tufts University recently convened an advisory board on the subject. It is not unreasonable to expect GW to make the effort to be more transparent, especially with the University’s high cost of tuition.

In addition, GW should practice more frugality. Ask almost any GW student about the recent inauguration of LeBlanc and you’ll be met with an eye-roll. The University spared no expense when it came to an arbitrary party that served no purpose other than to boost public relations. But GW fails to address more serious problems like cuts to the arts programs or student food insecurity. The Student Association went as far as to pass a resolution to formally condemn LeBlanc’s excessive inauguration and further demand GW release a complete annual fiscal budget and spending report. The University’s willingness to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the sake of marketing, rather than curating funds to assist actual students, is a glaring error in judgment. Students’ academic experience should be the first priority. At the top of the list should be rehabilitating academic programs that have been suffering from budget cuts like the music departments. The second priority should be allocating more money toward supporting students facing serious lifestyle challenges like food insecurity by contributing more support to The Store and providing more affordable dining options.

GW may be a private institution, but we all have a right to understand where our money is appropriated.

LeBlanc said that his top priority is improving the student experience. It is unreasonable that $500,000 was spent on a glorified party for him while some of the University’s students face food insecurity and others work several jobs just to stay afloat.

I understand the incredibly complicated nature of budgeting for such a large institution. And I don’t claim to be an expert in the University’s finances. However, I do recognize how unethical it is for GW to ask so much of students and their parents financially and then simultaneously deny them access to detailed and clear information on the use of that money. To make it worse, what budgeting details are released show a troubling misuse of funds by the University.

GW may be a private institution, but we all have a right to understand where our money is appropriated. There must be more effort by University officials to make the GW experience worthwhile for actual students. This can be done by investing in students’ academic success through diversifying suffering programs as well as making the expensive lifestyle here more accessible for financially struggling students.

Ronnie Riccobene, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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