Take new approach to tuition hikes
Cut financial aid, along with overall tuition cost
By BEKAH GRAHAM, Opinions Writer
Published: April 28, 2010
Education grows more expensive every year. Seattle Pacific students know that each February, they can expect an e-mail from President Philip Eaton in their inbox, proclaiming moderate tuition increases. Despite the tempered language, the e-mail provokes universal groaning, because we know that a "moderate increase" means only one thing: We pay more, whether we can afford it or not.
Rising costs seem to be an unavoidable component of higher education, but the way the university deals with them does not have to be. The idea of a fixed tuition plan is darkly attractive, but on a more immediate and practical level, only one plan seems to actually benefit students: decrease tuition substantially and reform financial aid to match.
The current system of unpredictable and high tuition costs is hardly a workable option. Students, myself included, who enroll expecting to work a manageable amount per week to offset student loans grow more harried by the year. Upperclassmen must juggle work-intensive upper division classes with increased work hours and suddenly it seems there aren't enough hours in the day.
And there are not.
A fixed-rate tuition plan would seem an easy fix to this problem, one which several schools, including George Washington University, have explored. However, Don Mortenson, vice president of business and planning said it is "a gimmick that can last a few years, but can't last very long," as "when we freeze tuition, costs are still going up!"
That is why I propose the alternative mentioned above, one hinted at by Mortenson in our interview, though he was wary of it: Drop tuition prices dramatically and cut back in financial aid to cover the difference.
Consider North Park University. Like SPU, it is a small, private Christian university located in an urban environment. NPU enrolls 3,200 students while SPU enrolls 4,000. Both schools are liberal arts based and were founded in 1891 by a Christian denomination. In nearly all respects, these two schools seem twinned.
Except for the matter of tuition. In the fall of 2005, North Park cut tuition prices drastically. Students matriculated before 2005 paid $24,650 for a full course load; those matriculated today, a more reasonable $19,900. SPU students, by contrast, will pay $28,602.
So, why hasn't SPU followed suit?
To afford such a tuition cut, Mortenson and SPU's Director of Student Financial Services Jordan Grant suggested that massive, unwelcome cuts in financial aid would necessarily follow. In an e-mail, Grant called such cuts "something that no one wants to do for obvious reasons of fairness and student need," a sentiment echoed by Mortenson, who pointed out that nearly 90 percent of Seattle Pacific students qualify for financial aid and SPU's financial offerings attract "stronger and better" students academically.
Yet, North Park doesn't seem to be suffering in either of these areas. More than 90 percent of their students receive financial aid of some kind -- the same percentage as SPU, according to their Web site. As for their academics, it is choked with significant academic achievements and awards; two of their students just won competitive Fulbright Awards, the third year in a row for NPU students, according to their Web site.
Even if their financial aid statistic is skewed somehow, this seems like a workable solution. I, for one, wouldn't mind receiving a smaller proportion of aid if it meant that the total bill -- and the loans and work hours I would need to cover it -- would shrink as well.
As far as I can tell, North Park's policy of cut-rate tuition and financial aid is working out well. Perhaps it's time for SPU to become their twin in yet another respect: To give its harried students a moment's breather, along with an e-mail from President Eaton met with cheers, rather than groans.