Tuition hikes frustrate, confuse students

As college tuition climbs across the country, some students are struggling to keep up.

According to The College Board, tuition rates at United States universities have more than tripled over the past three decades, causing student debt to increase exponentially. A recent survey by the National Survey of Student Engagement found that the financial burden of paying for school and performing well puts academic stress on students.

Sophomore Beth Hodges has experienced this stress first hand.

“When you spend your summers working, negotiating loans with the financial aid office and the school year balancing jobs while taking enough credits to finish your degree in four years, it can wear you down,” Hodges. “It’s a constant juggling act of trying to enjoy your college experience and making sure you can continue to have one.”

Sophomore Lauren Auster shared a similar sentiment.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m stressed trying to balance the two [working and academics], but I have definitely made sacrifices to be able to afford coming here,” Auster said. “For example, I became a resident assistant to help cover the costs of living here. Although I love being a RA, there are definitely times when I wish I had more time to focus on my studies rather than my responsibilities as an RA.”

The rising tuition cost not only affect students’ finance worries during school, but post-graduation as well. Sophomore Lacie Parham, a psychology major, is worried about how she will pay for graduate school.

“I am a psychology major, and I know I have to go to graduate school after undergrad,” noted Parham. “I will already be approximately $36,000 in debt, so I always worry how I will pay for graduate school. In addition, it’s not like I am majoring in engineering, so I’m not sure if I will have the funds to climb out of debt.”

Parham believe CWRU should place a greater emphasis on providing more substantial merit scholarships and financial aid for students, rather than embarking on new building projects.

“[CWRU] spent approximately $50 million on the Tinkham Veale University Center, and it’s practically falling apart already,” said Parham. “They definitely could have spent more money helping me with scholarships.”

Compared to other similar schools, though, CWRU does provide substantially more grants or scholarship aid for students. In 2012, 86 percent of new CWRU undergraduates received some type of scholarship or grant aid, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Comparably, students at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis received 54 percent, 63 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

Some agree that CWRU needs a stronger infrastructure, but they wonder where exactly their tuition money is going.

“CWRU needs to continue to update its infrastructure, but I feel like many of the updates don’t impact me directly enough to justify three percent plus annual tuition increases,” said Hodges. “It’s almost 200 hours at Ohio’s minimum wage of $7.25, more after taxes.”

“I definitely think some of the dorms need to be updated, especially the freshmen dorms,” added Auster, saying that they have cockroaches in Cutler Hall. “I think compared to most private schools, CWRU does a great job offering scholarships and aid. However, we lack big time in the housing department, and our dorms seem to be just as expensive. I wouldn’t complain so much about the high housing or tuition costs if I lived in a dorm bigger than a box and one without bugs.”

At Inc. Magazine’s recent GrowCo conference, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban explained why colleges raise tuition frequently.

“It’s easy for the colleges to ask for more, because then the potential students just take out bigger loans,” said Cuban. “Rising tuition costs have resulted in more than $1 trillion in student loan debt.”

“Tuition is just easy money, and easy money goes to a college administrators’ head just as much as anybody else,” he added in an interview with CNBC.

His sentiment was reflected in many student’s complaints about CWRU’s lack of transparency regarding where tuition money goes.

It seems, though, that many CWRU students are upset at President Barbara Snyder’s administration for not being transparent in providing a clear breakdown of tuition costs.

In an “Update on University Initiatives and Discussion of Tuition, Room and Board Rates for 2015-2016,” published on the CWRU website, Provost William A. “Bud” Baeslack III says that the tuition increase will help pay for “strategic initiatives, selective new hires, salary and benefits cost increases, operating costs of new student facilities and other ongoing cost increases, including support of larger undergraduate student population.” However, some CWRU students are confused as to what that truly means.

CWRU has about 5,000 undergraduate students, meaning that increasing tuition by $1,400 equates to an extra $7 million.

“I have no idea why tuition is going up,” said Auster. “[The administration] gave those vague reasons, but I don’t know exactly where my money is going.”

“I just don’t feel like these tuition increases reflect any benefit on me as a student,” she added. “I want CWRU to show me where this money is going, how it’s going to benefit me and prove to me why I need to pay this extra amount. I’m pretty sure nobody is happy with tuition hikes and hope CWRU will listen, or at least compromise. Raise aid or scholarships if you’re going to raise tuition. Or guarantee set tuition rates for four years so that students don’t have to burden increases every year.”

CWRU, however, is not the only school increasing tuition costs. Harvard College, Yale University, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago are increasing their tuition rates by 3.9 percent, 4.1 percent, 3.6 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively. Comparatively, CWRU’s tuition increase of 3.25 percent is lower.

In addition, CWRU has several new projects that serve to benefit its students, including the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel and think[box], both opening in the Fall of 2015.

Rising tuition costs and worries about paying for school can put a damper on a student’s entire college experience.

“I love attending CWRU. It was my first choice school after I felt at home my first time on campus,” said Hodges. “I love the community of like-minded people who are passionate about all they do and the opportunity to live in University Circle and discover Cleveland. Sometimes I have to wonder, though, if it was really the most financially sound decision.”