Floating tuition will turn away prospective low-income students

Incoming students may have a more difficult decision committing to the University after officials announced they will eliminate GW’s longstanding fixed tuition policy.

Under a floating tuition policy, the University can change the cost of tuition each academic year, similar to how officials change its residence hall prices. Officials have increased tuition by about 3 percent for the past few years, but now those increases can affect all future students as long as they attend GW.

If the University continues to up its price tag as it has done in recent years, students who already struggle to afford tuition may not stay at the University or come to campus in the first place. While the new policy would enable officials to expand their budget and fund Thurston Hall renovations and more community spaces, it could harm incoming students – especially those from low-income families – who do not want to adjust to an unpredictable sticker price from year to year. The University needs to prove its commitment to socioeconomic diversity and explain how a floating tuition policy will financially impact prospective students.

For many students considering where to attend college, price is the biggest determinant. For middle-class families that might not be eligible for much financial aid, the prospect of steadily rising tuition across four years could be daunting. Students who are not eligible for financial aid often rely on merit scholarships, which the University says will not increase under the new policy. If tuition increases and a student’s merit scholarship does not, the University will become less and less affordable.

In addition to implementing a floating tuition policy, the University plans to reduce  undergraduate enrollment by thousands of students. If the University relies on student tuition to fund its budget, lowering undergraduate enrollment means there are fewer students around to pay the bills. An expected increase in tuition every year is predictable.

GW’s cost of tuition is already unaffordable for most people – and it shows. More students are in the top 1 percent than the bottom 40 percent of family incomes. The University cannot afford to lose what little economic diversity it has, because economic diversity gives those from all classes different perspectives. But floating tuition will make it harder for middle- and lower-class families to afford sending their kids to campus.

Families struggling to afford GW need to know that they will be able to afford college down the line. The University’s statement on financial aid – which said that the University will continue reviewing financial aid each year as it takes into account tuition changes – was vague and did not go far enough to ensure that financial aid packages will cover potential tuition increases. Students have spent summers and semesters stressed about their financial aid packages possibly changing, and that concern will only worsen if tuition is raised.

Students with lower incomes or those who are dependent on financial aid may be unwilling to attend the University, given that the University already does not meet financial need for all students, and the University considers a student’s need in its admissions decisions. Increasing the cost of attendance per year could lead to those who would require more aid from the University to not apply to or attend the school, or it could hurt students who go into school without enough aid to help them afford a tuition hike.

Moving to floating tuition brings GW in line with its peer schools, but the University’s peers do more to help students pay for college. Most of GW’s peers meet full financial need with the exception of three schools – New York and Tulane universities and the University of Miami. Among those three schools, NYU is the only university with a higher cost of attendance than GW. Floating tuition might work for the University’s peer schools, but officials may scare off prospective students if they cannot guarantee full need.

The University should not increase its own budget at the expense of the student body. While the University touts its commitment to the student experience, most students have their experience driven by their ability to pay for college. Newer classrooms, residence halls and community spaces – all improvements officials vowed to put the extra money toward – may help students currently on campus, but the University is simultaneously turning away those who may not be able to afford the school in the first place.

The University needs to be transparent about why it made the decision to ditch the fixed tuition policy. Officials should release specific breakdowns of what tuition increases will be spent on so students know where their money is going. The University needs to be honest about its decisions, and the initial statement on the new policy was far from enough to reassure prospective students and their families.

It should not be University policy that students need to afford the new price of attendance each year. Moving away from fixed tuition unfairly expects students to be able to afford increases in tuition and makes it clear that the University prioritizes students who have the privilege to know what their financial situation will be each year. The University should focus on admitting the most qualified students, not just the richest students.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of assistant copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, contributing design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.

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