VCU is raising tuition costs again, just as another more expensive, private university is making tuition free for many students.
At the end of March, Stanford University announced a new financial aid policy that waives tuition costs for students whose parents make less than $125,000 per year. While those students still have to pay the cost of room and board, students whose parents make less than $65,000 per year will have those fees waived as well.
Harvard and Princeton have similar financial aid programs. Harvard waives tuition fees for students whose parents make less than $65,000. If their parents make between $65,000 and $150,000, the family is expected to pay between zero to 10 percent of their income toward fees.
Princeton students whose parents make less than $140,000 do not have to pay tuition, and if they make less than $60,000 they don’t have to pay for room and board either.
While policies like these are greatly beneficial to a select few students, they do not solve the problem of rising tuition costs that affect the nation and students at schools like ours. Many of us are at the mercy of the bureaucrats who run our schools; they do not care where the money comes from as long as they get their share. We are treating the symptoms and not the disease. The pursuit of higher education has become too costly and the well is drying up more each year.
Stanford was recently ranked No. 4 in the U.S. News & World Report national university rankings and only accepts 5.7 percent of their applicants. VCU is a state university, ranked No. 156 in the same report, with an acceptance rate of 64 percent. As a public university, we are subject to education budget cuts and suffer harsher consequences on a continual basis.
In addition, highly selective schools like Stanford, Harvard and Princeton have a high percentage of wealthy students whose parents’ income is above the $125,000 mark. They also have fewer students than VCU, which has more than 30,000 attendees.
College Board, a non-profit that provides students with information about universities nationwide found only about 16 percent of students at Stanford received Pell Grants, which is financial aid for students whose parents make below $50,000. This percentage is a far cry from the national average of 36 percent of students who receive Pell Grants at other universities.
The wealthier parents of students are essentially paying for the cost of tuition for lower-income students at the Ivy League schools with these financial aid programs. More expensive universities with more financially stable students are still seeing a rise in tuition. Stanford has increased their tuition by 3 percent every year for the last 10 years. The cost of receiving an education isn’t lower; it’s a matter of redistributing costs amongst students.
The rising cost of loans is another problematic area in the pursuit of higher education. As of April 8, national student loan debt is at a staggering $1.2 trillion. A study from Experian, a credit score service, found student loans have increased by 84 percent since the recession in 2008, and constitutes the only type of consumer debt that isn’t decreasing.
The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia released a report discussing the rising costs of tuition and debt in the state. SCHEV found that state and federal aid is not meeting the growing needs of students. While the demand for higher education degrees is increasing, enrollment in universities is leveling off, if not declining.
Furthermore, lower-income students are less likely to enroll in a four-year school and those who do attend these universities are about 10 percent more likely not to re-enroll after their first year when compared to wealthier students. Many lower-income students are not aware of their financial aid options, even with more and more schools adopting financial aid policies that waive tuition.
While programs like Stanford’s and other Ivy League schools are commendable, they are not realistic options for most other schools in our country. VCU, as a state institution, faces a greater number of funding obstacles than private universities who have a larger endowment base.
Both the universities and the Virginia General Assembly need to reevaluate their priorities if they want the cost of tuition to ever stop rising. The General Assembly should place higher education further up in their priorities and make sure state funds are properly allocated toward universities. At the same time, VCU’s administration should reevaluate their own priorities when it comes to meeting students’ needs. As a university with one of the highest percentages of financial aid recipients in Virginia, our money is best spent there.