College is expensive.
This isn’t a truth unique to Case Western Reserve University, but it’s certainly one that plagues the students here in particular. As a private institution, CWRU is by nature going to be more expensive than most other universities. It’s supposedly the trade-off of the private college experience, and in theory, the expense is offset by the financial aid we receive.
At a certain point though, it becomes difficult to justify the continually rising costs of our education.
Last week, the university announced a 3.80 percent increase in tuition costs alongside a 2.75 percent increase in room and board rates. This is at least the ninth year in a row that attendance costs have gone up at CWRU. The main explanation for these significant increases is inflation. This explanation even dates back to 2016, when then-Provost Bud Baeslack claimed that baseline inflation projected tuition costs to increase approximately two to three percent every year.
Many of the students at this school do not come from households with very much disposable income and most likely based their decision to attend somewhat on the initial costs. As the increases in tuition have compounded, it’s also likely that many of them have found themselves in a more difficult financial spot. While the university does now meet full need, a controversial decision in its own right, the expected family contribution generated from the FAFSA is grossly overstated.
If CWRU wishes to remain competitive and to continue to garner more incoming students, it will need to find ways to bring more consistency to the cost of attendance. The university is in an urban setting and is attempting to close the academic achievement gap. Yet by making attendance less accessible for students from lower income households, CWRU undermines this goal. Socioeconomic disparity is already a problem here, and it will only be exacerbated by these yearly increases in tuition.
While there are a number of ways that CWRU could better its fiscal practices, the most obvious is to begin freezing tuition for new students. This has been implemented at a number of public universities and has been praised by students who’ve experienced it. The ideal situation for both students and the university would be tuition freezing based on when students matriculate. That is, your tuition would be locked in at whatever price it was when you started your first year, even if tuition is raised for the next incoming class.
According to a student at a meeting discussing the tuition increase, university administrators were asked if a freeze was possible. The administrators reportedly said no, and that the university may just offer the expected price after four years from the beginning as costs increase by a set percentage every year.
Perhaps this answer highlights the very problem of how CWRU has designed its tuition and room and board rates. A consistent increase every year by the same percentage feels highly arbitrary. If it’s inevitable, why? Inflation may affect the entire economy, but if more paying students are attending every year, why hasn’t this percentage at least dropped?
It just leaves students searching for more explanations, and there are probably more than one. But the ambiguous responses during official meetings with provosts both past and present have done little to dampen concerns. One thing is for certain, however, and it is the frustration we will continue to feel until the costs feel more justified.
As students, we understand that the education we are paying for is world-class and will be more expensive. But allowing it to slowly balloon out of reach except for the most economically privileged students is unacceptable. CWRU must either give us reasons that are more verifiable and believable or justify when and where the money will soon be spent.
Otherwise, potential students will start looking elsewhere.