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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Staff Editorial: American University’s budget shortfall should be a wakeup call to prioritize current students

Prices are going up, but student satisfaction is going down

The Eagle’s editorial board is comprised of its staff but does not represent every individual staffer’s views. Rather, it provides an insight into how The Eagle, as an editorially-independent institution, responds to issues on campus. 

Colleges and universities across the country are facing a fiscal crisis — American University is no exception to the trend. 

American University announced a $1.3 million increase to the expected budget shortfall for the 2023-24 fiscal year, totalling $33 million. This additional loss comes because graduate program enrollment for the spring semester was lower than expected, according to the University. 

Put in context, a $33 million shortfall in a $894 million total budget, is not financially devastating. However, the greatest cause of these losses is a decrease in student enrollment and retention. The University is facing financial consequences for poor student satisfaction and inadequate enrollment.  

While budget shortfalls are not uncommon in our higher education landscape, that doesn’t mean we should settle for increased tuition and fewer benefits. 

Efforts to improve student life are centered around future students, with long term projects taking precedence over ongoing issues affecting current students like residence halls’ failing infrastructure and inaccessible campus buildings.  

The planned Student Thriving Complex and Meltzer Center for Athletic Performance will take years to complete and require intensive construction projects. While these major donor-backed projects may contribute to student satisfaction in the future, they are taking away attention from immediate priorities. 

Even shorter-term projects like the Terrace Dining Room renovations harm current students’ accessibility to dining options — especially since the redesigned meal plan centers TDR as the main dining destination. The renovation project means that the dining hall will close in mid-April, before the spring semester concludes. Although the University plans to provide dining alternatives during this closure, this choice will no doubt put many students at further risk for food insecurity. 

The University is in a unique position where it is engaging in projects that may benefit students in the future, but will contribute to worsened student life during construction phases and shifting investment priorities. Valuing hypothetical students in the future more than those currently on campus may harm retention. 

Many prospective students are seeing AU’s lowered prestige rankings coupled with rising tuition costs and a poor reputation for financial aid support. Lowered graduate school enrollment is a driving cause of this budget shortfall, and a new sports center only for Division I athletes certainly won’t drive increased interest. 

With an endowment of over $900 million, AU is not in deep financial trouble. The FY24 shortfall amounts to less than four percent of the fiscal year’s total budget. This is not an excuse for major cuts to programs, staff or faculty. However, it is indicative of a decline in desire, either to stay at the University or to join it in the first place. 

With President Sylvia Burwell on her way out of University leadership, we need a new president to prioritize budget transparency and actions that support current students as much as projects for future classes. 

This piece was written by Jelinda Montes and edited by Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti. 

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