GW’s more expensive than peers in most categories of student services, SA report finds

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

SA Executive Vice President Sydney Nelson, who compiled most of the report, said the findings provide student leaders with evidence to present to administrators when discussing affordability initiatives.

In a report highlighting everyday costs students encounter at GW, Student Association leaders found that GW is the most expensive university in its peer group in everything from printing and laundry costs to student health insurance.

The 48-page report, released Monday, is the culmination of more than a year of research from SA leaders, who compared the costs of 11 different University services to GW’s peer institutions and found that GW tops the list in almost every category.

The report also includes data from the SA’s affordability survey, which was sent to students last academic year, and found that most students spend thousands of dollars on top of tuition on items like textbooks and healthcare.

The affordability reports were initially expected to be completed last spring, but faced months of delays before it was released.

SA Executive Vice President Sydney Nelson, who compiled most of the report, said the findings provide student leaders with evidence to present to administrators when discussing affordability initiatives.

“I think any student could tell you that they feel nickel and dimed frequently by the University, and that this transactional relationship that we can identify as students – it’s not made up,” Nelson said.

Here’s a snapshot of the top affordability concerns highlighted in the report:

GW will offer two student meal plans next academic year – the fewest of any of its per schools, which have an average of about eight different plans. The report found that GW has the least expensive dining plan structure, but Nelson said having a comparatively cheap dining plan is a negative because students need to “dig out of their own pockets” for food.

Officials announced updates to the plan last month after students said that even after the switch to an “open” dining plan two years ago, running out of dining dollars was still the norm. The new plan, which will begin in the fall, gives students with an in-unit kitchen $2,800 per year, and students without a kitchen $4,600 per year.

The report found that 87 percent of undergraduates surveyed spent more than $11 on food each day.

Healthcare has surged to the forefront of student concerns after a student report released Monday highlighted the “exorbitant” cost of student health insurance at GW. Officials said they would announce updates to the Colonial Health Center and the student health insurance plan in the coming weeks.

The SA’s affordability report found that student health insurance at the University – clocking in at $4,103 for most students this year – costs nearly twice as much as the roughly $2,600 average cost of care at peer institutions.

Earlier this academic year, members of the SA worked with administrators to form a student health advisory council – an outlet for student leaders to voice concerns about healthcare affordability and accessibility to top officials.

The report found that of the 545 undergraduates who spent money at the CHC during their time on campus, 76 percent spent more than $150 and 29 percent spent more than $200. Nelson said SA leaders didn’t include students who didn’t spend money at the CHC in the report because “spending $0 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s affordable. It could mean that it’s so expensive that students do not even entertain the CHC as an option.”

The report found that students heavily depend on ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft over the Metro to navigate the District. But of the students who use the Metro, nearly half of undergraduates spent more than $50 on fares each semester, and nearly half of graduate students spent more than $200.

Nelson said the research shows that a discounted yearly Metro pass, which would provide undergraduates unlimited access to the Metro for $260 each academic year – an initiative students have heavily supported in the past – would not be a suitable model for GW. She said only a small portion of undergraduates spend more than $200 on the Metro, which means the “discounted” pass would force most students to pay more for the Metro.

“We need a program that’s opt-in, we need a program that’s available to graduate students as well because they’re the most heavy users of Metro on our campus,” Nelson said.

The University has the highest laundry costs compared to its market basket schools, according to the report. The report states that a $3.50 charge to wash and dry a load of clothes is about twice more than its peers, adding that four peer schools do not charge students any laundry fees.

“You can look at how we want to change that transactional relationship over I think it’s important to realize that charging students in their dorm for basic services doesn’t help,” Nelson said

Replacement fees
Student researchers found that the cost of replacing items like a hard room key or an ID card at the University soar above peer institutions. The cost of replacing a hard room key is $150 – which is 50 more than the peer school average – while the cost of replacing a GWorld card is the second-highest ID replacement among the peer schools.

“I think that part of these replacement fees is recognizing that it’s OK to be human as a student and to make mistakes, and we all lose things and to not create a financial punishment for students who do so,” Nelson said.

At $15 per copy, the cost of getting a transcript in-person at GW is the largest in its peer group. Transcript fees, which largely affect upperclassmen who are applying to graduate school or jobs, also cost $8 for an electronic version – the third most expensive fee for an electronic transcript, according to the report.

The University switched to a new transcript service provider earlier this year that allows students to receive electronic transcripts.

“While the move to a provider that allows for electronic transcripts is a good one, I don’t think we should be prohibiting students from applying to internships, to jobs, to graduate school with financial fees and you look at who’s hit hardest,” Nelson said.

Jared Gans and Kathryn Sheehan contributed reporting.

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