CWRU Town Hall meeting presents tuition increases and general education changes

Anna Giubileo, Staff Reporter

“In a perfect world, I’d like you all to be here free of charge,” said Case Western Reserve University Provost Ben Vinson III. However, that is obviously not the reality, as students filled the Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom on Feb. 11 to hear administrators and faculty speak on changes to the general education requirements and increasing tuition.

The first half of the evening welcomed Vinson, along with Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark, Dean of Admissions Robert McCullough, Vice President for Campus Services Richard Jamieson and Dr. Sara Lee, the executive director of University Health and Counseling Services, to speak on the specifics of how and why tuition will be rising.

Vinson explained that tuition will rise 3.96% from its current rate, bringing it to $52,448 for the 2020-21 academic year. In the past years, it has increased by 3.2% for the 2018-19 academic year and 3.7% for the 2019-20 year. In total, tuition has increased by $3,406 in the past two years.  

“These are decisions we take very, very seriously. We are well aware of the pain tuition causes our students and their families,” said Vinson. 

It was explained the tuition increase comes from growing demands in health care and maintenance, necessary building renovations, government requirements, faculty and staff compensation, student services, like the student success initiative, and health and wellness. 

Lee came in to explain the growing demand for the health and counseling services her office offers, saying that: “Over the past five years, we’ve seen [the number of unique students seen] grow … and our total visit numbers continue to climb … [these increases] outpace enrollment.”

In terms of how the increased demand is being met, Lee explained that because staffing has been expanded, more office space is required. There is currently a less than a 1,000-to-one counselor-to-student ratio. 

Along with the tuition increase, room and board, and the meal plan, will also face increasing costs, according to Jamieson. Students will be facing a 3% rate increase in all residence hall and meal plan rates—excluding the unlimited meal plan, which will experience no change in cost. 

From there, the session moved into a question and answer period, which students eagerly participated in. Atirolaoluwa Omilabu, a fourth-year chemical engineering major, asked when the administrators see the tuition increases stopping. Provost Vinson responded, stating: “I have twins. I’m nervous … We know this is hard. We are doing everything we can as best we can to contain costs. I do not have an answer for you.”

Veronica Madell, a second-year English major and current writer for The Observer, inquired whether students were involved in any of the tuition increase decisions. “We do not have a formal discussion just for tuition, but we do talk to students about programs on campus,” responded Stark. 

A first-year student in the audience followed up on the apparent disconnect between students and the administration, asking what the campus community can do to include students in these types of conversations. The response from Vinson was simple: “I don’t know, right now.” 

From there, the town hall moved to the changing general education requirements. Peter Shulman, history professor and chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education, spoke for this next portion and explained where the current general education requirements come from. 

When the Case Institute of Technology federated with Western Reserve University, very few of the general education requirements were shared. While, over time, the number of common elements has increased, general education requirements can still vary greatly between departments. “We had tried, at one point, to come up with a philosophy, what’s the point of general education. That was a failure.” Each department had a different idea of why general education existed, and they did not mesh well together.

“It’s fractured. It creates challenges for students who move from one school to another,” explained Shulman. In addition, the SAGES program currently lacks integration into the rest of the intellectual curriculum. 

Shulman’s presentation included several graphics detailing how the new requirements shape up as compared to the current ones, or, as he put it, “there are a lot of squiggly things on the slides and I don’t know what they mean.”

Though the graphics appear daunting at first, the explanations are quite simple. Physical education will become wellness, allowing students to count classes on topics such as financial wellness towards those credits. The SAGES first seminar will become an academic inquiry seminar, with the other two courses currently required in SAGES moving to combine with breadth requirements. Those courses will fall under the purview of specific departments, with students being required to take at least 6 of those 18 credits in two of three categories: STEM, Arts/Humanities or Social Sciences/Management, depending on what their major is. The remaining 12 credits can be taken in either of the categories outside of one’s major. 

While new requirements are scheduled to take effect in the fall of 2022, Shulman recognized that “we are taking our time now and going slow enough to ensure there’s faculty buy-on, but as fast as possible to still be successful.”

Students appeared to be much more receptive to this portion of the evening, with two students taking part in the questions portion verbalizing their approval. One concern voiced by a student was whether it would be flexible enough to last, since previously, administrators were certain SAGES would be extremely well received. Shulman responded by saying the plan is that it will still be around when: “You’re married and have kids. You’ll have to worry about paying for college. Well, you’ll be still paying for your college,” a poignant reference to the previous session’s subject. 

While students responded much more positively to the second half of the evening, many were disappointed with the lack of answers provided during the first half. With the amount of students concerned about the lack of student involvement in tuition discussions and apparent interest in getting involved further, some can hope that the administrators who were present walked away from the Town Hall meeting with the desire to involve students in these important conversations.