Guest article by Logan Billman
On face, supporting a tuition freeze seems like common sense. The referendum demanding a freeze on tuition hikes, termed as “Question 3,” is for the upcoming budget cycle (FY 2017-2019), and came from this petition. But when you decide to vote on Question 3, I hope you consider some of a tuition freeze’s hidden costs.
#3. A Tuition Freeze Cuts Financial Aid
College is really fucking expensive. Tuition and fees alone cost $43,664 a year, so at first glance a tuition freeze seems like the perfect solution; if college is already expensive, why shouldn’t we fight to keep tuition frozen?
The thing is, the normal tuition rate doesn’t tell the full story. Only 22% of undergraduate students pay the full sticker price of tuition, and most students receive some sort of aid from the government and the university. Currently financial aid is tied to tuition at a rate of 30%. In other words, for every tuition dollar AU gets, $0.30 cents of it automatically goes toward financial aid. So whenever tuition increases, financial aid increases too.
Now 30 cents to the dollar isn’t great, particularly because every student would still end up paying more in the increase than aid would increase by. However, we all don’t receive the same amount of financial aid.
Almost all of AU’s financial aid allocation goes toward need-based aid, and the vast majority of need-based aid goes to the lowest income quintile. These are the students who benefit the most from financial aid, and who stand to benefit the least from a tuition freeze.
Why does a tuition freeze hurt these students? Because for every dollar that tuition increases, their allocation of financial aid increases by roughly $1.30. Or, in other words, a small increase in tuition greatly increases the amount of available financial aid.
By freezing tuition, we are worsening the financial condition of our community members who need relief the most.
#2. We Won’t Get the Services our Campus Needs
There is universal consensus on what needs to be done regarding the key issues facing our campus. For proof, look no further than policies proposed by the current candidates for SG executive office.
Be it wait times at the counseling center, the disregard for dining and maintenance staff’s dignity, or even the need to hire a second OASIS Victim Advocate, every single candidate agrees that action needs to be taken. Indeed, almost every candidate for the past 3 years has agreed on the path forward. But why hasn’t anything happened?
The unfortunate reality is these proposals all cost money. And when money is involved, the Board of Trustees will need to approve it.
While perceptions of the Board of Trustees range from self-interested bureaucrats to an actual society of financial vampires, we do know that they only consider budget proposals on a biennial basis. Thus the only window for real progress on any of the major campus issues occurs every other year. Making matters worse, the Board spends less than 4 months actually working on budget issues.
Given this tiny window of opportunity, any time spent pressuring the Board of Trustees on one issue directly takes time away from other issues. Whether we like it or not, voting yes on question 3 will make a tuition freeze the singular issue of the next budget cycle, and delay any progress on other issues for at least 2 years.
The question we must ask is: can we afford to wait 2 more years on mental health, sexual assault awareness and prevention, and workers’ rights?
#1. A Tuition Freeze Doesn’t Solve the Long-Term Problem
The fact we have to fight the university to provide basic worker’s rights and access to essential health resources is sickening. Especially when we already spend over $40,000 a year on tuition. So why can’t the university afford to pay for the services we need?
Because right now most of our tuition money goes into an administrative abyss; hiring new administrators and paying the ones we already have more. In fact, administrative overhead is one of the fastest growing sections of university spending. Unfortunately, a tuition freeze will do little to address this.
Historically AU implements budget cuts by slashing each department’s funds equally. So if tuition were frozen, the counseling center and OASIS would be hit by budget cuts just as hard as administrative services.
But the worst part is that administrative salaries are actually immune from most cuts, meaning that the forces driving tuition hikes won’t actually be stopped. Instead of solving the issue, a tuition freeze would only allow administrative costs to soar while reducing the quality of crucial services.
The administration and Board of Trustees must be directly pressured on administrative hiring practices for real change to happen. As it stands, a tuition freeze is only kicking the can down the road.
The cost of tuition at AU is too high and needs to be changed. But the proposed tuition freeze stops progress on important campus issues, reduces crucial services, limits financial aid, and doesn’t actually solve the long-term problem.
Vote No on the Tuition Freeze Referendum.