The time has come for fixed tuition
No student should go bankrupt while attempting to afford college
In reality, families probably know how much their student’s first year at college will cost. However, the level of unpredictability in tuition for subsequent years can be a bigger source of anxiety. Considering that the Board of Trustees will increase tuition by another four percent in the 2018-2019 school year, this issue is a pressing matter.
According to Pew Research Center, Americans owed more than $1.3 trillion in student loans at the end of June 2017. AU estimates that 73 percent of law students owe debt after graduation.
I believe that now more than ever before, AU needs to make the final push in offering a fixed tuition option and a “tuition shopping sheet.” If higher education is to contribute to equal opportunity and economic mobility, not only must its leaders make more places available across the entire system, selective institutions need to do their fair share by financially protecting a more socioeconomically diverse student body.
At least 24 private schools froze tuition this year, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Notably, Catholic University raised tuition and fees three percent this year, to $36,520, which is its lowest increase in three decades.
A major barrier for undocumented students is also the cost of higher education. Many states do not allow undocumented students to access in-state tuition or state financial aid benefits. According to the National Immigration Law Center, D.C. has a “tuition equity law,” which gives undocumented students the ability to pay for public college and university at in-state rates. Due to President Trump's repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), DACA recipients will likely face prohibitive tuition costs.
Ángel Cabrera, the president of George Mason University, told the Center for American Progress that George Mason provides in-state tuition to more than 300 DACA recipients. But, after January 2018, about half of them will lose their status and may be forced to leave George Mason because they will no longer be able to afford their studies. Having a fixed university tuition rate guarantees that DACA recipients and undocumented students will not fear the immediate tuition hike after the DACA suspension.
The student advocacy group Education Not Debt (END) previously developed referendum to give AU students a chance to officially vote for a tuition freeze. The referendum asked for a freeze on students’ tuition costs from year to year. The petition needed support from at least 10 percent of the student body or approximately 700 students. However, the total was close to 500. Efforts like such must be revitalized.
The Board of Trustees and AU’s financial aid department must provide, at the very minimum, a financial aid “shopping sheet” with the school’s total price tag, the type and amount of aid available, graduation rates and how much debt they could have after graduation. Access to tuition rates and information regarding potential hikes must be readily provided to students before they begin their studies. No student should blindly sign the contract of attendance to American University if they are not fully aware of the final cost by the time they graduate.
The Board of Trustees should take note of the fact that protecting a tuition freeze and providing a “tuition shopping list” has been so successful for our fellow D.C. school, George Washington University, that for the 10th year in a row, GW’s board of trustees voted to continue to contain the cost of attendance, guaranteeing no tuition increase for returning undergraduate students and limiting increases for incoming undergraduate students to approximately three percent.
In my belief, any school that leaves even a single student with an excess of debt is by definition a for-profit institution, meaning that the institution is more concerned about protecting their own savings account than their student body’s wallets. We must relentlessly continue the fight for affordable higher education.
For these reasons, I will be proposing a bill in the student government senate asking the University to provide a fixed tuition option and a tuition “Shopping Sheet” on Jan. 28, 2018.
Yasaman Moinzadeh-Hakami is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs.