Staff Editorial: Tuition increase will decrease the level of trust students have in administration’s decision-making
Uncertainty surrounding the future is only justifiable if transparency is granted to the AU community
A recent Eagle article covered the announcement that the American University board of trustees approved a 5 percent undergraduate tuition increase for the next two years. The total undergraduate price of attendance will increase by roughly $3,100 next year.
The University mentions that supporting the needs of students is a “top university priority” and that the average amount of financial aid that each student will receive will increase by $1,400 or 9 percent in the next fiscal year. Despite stating that affordability was central to their decision-making process, the average additional aid of $1,400 doesn’t cover half of the estimated tuition increase of $3,100. The administration often highlights their fundraising campaign Change Can’t Wait, which raised around $307 million, and discusses future plans while simultaneously ignoring pressing student concerns, like loan repayment and scholarship displacement.
Previous Eagle reporting on tuition increase marks a daunting trend. The board of trustees approved a 4 percent increase in 2017 for the next two fiscal years and if that were to continue, the cost of attendance would reach $113,000 by 2040. The AU administration has several money channels that fail to directly aid students, and the question remains on what this says about AU’s financial future.
University leaders acknowledge that many face financial burdens and told The Eagle that “we as a board recognize that this cannot continue,” but continue to stray from a solution. Amid the news of President Sylvia Burwell’s salary increase, this acknowledgment is even more tone deaf. Burwell made a total of $1,066,509 in the 2019 fiscal year and places AU in the top 25 percent of executive compensation at private universities. At the same time, students express difficulty securing jobs at AU and being secure in their finances that would allow them to survive in D.C.’s pricy living standards.
The absence of a detailed financial strategy brings concern on whether it’ll benefit those who keep the University afloat: AU employees. Last semester, staff protested the unfair wages of staff, adjunct, and graduate students at AU, followed by a second protest that alleged AU administration’s slow progress in negotiating wages with the labor unions after their initial protest. Just yesterday, AU graduate students, faculty and adjuncts published an open letter advocating for fair wages. With workers that have been working here for decades claiming that AU is not paying them as much as other schools in the area, we question the validity of the administration's promises of wanting community members to thrive.
The University needs to communicate with the AU community on what exactly this tuition increase will contribute to and provide a rough roadmap on where the money might go toward. Understandably, the lack of clarity may be due to the uncertainty of what the pandemic will look like within the next year. At the same time, facilitating constant discussion with student leaders on this plan, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, would ensure that every student would be properly represented.
We don’t want boastful claims that this overall cost will be lower than neighboring universities, we want the University to fulfill its promise of creating a “community of care.”