Since its expansion and rise to the top of college rankings, cost of attendance at NYU has been a concern for students. Even more frustrating is the practice of raising tuition costs each year in order to offset inflation and university expenses. While a necessary evil in some cases, it has become apparent that many former and aspiring students cannot afford these raises, no matter how incremental they are. One easy way of addressing affordability is by “grandfathering” tuition, an approach where a school fixes the cost of attendance for each incoming student for at least four years, instead of implementing annual tuition increases. In this model, what students pay their first semester at a university is what they will pay until they graduate.
Universities throughout the United States advertise their guaranteed tuition program to students and parents alike, who are often surprised to learn that rates can increase by thousands of dollars each year. While lost revenue from these programs must be considered, its implementation would send a loud message to the NYU community that the administration recognizes the challenges of higher education and is willing to help. The university’s advice to students that they should simply keep in mind that tuition may increase is the furthest thing from a guarantee, and does nothing to foster financial peace of mind among college families.
However, the grandfathering system is not without faults of its own. While various universities have implemented guaranteed-tuition programs successfully, some schools have had to contend with the consequences of freezing tuition prices. In Illinois — where guaranteed-tuition is mandated by law throughout the state — public colleges and universities have experienced drastic increases in annual tuition rates for incoming students. Fixed tuition rates increased at a rate of approximately 26-30% per year — an unimaginable spike for students at high cost universities such as NYU. These hikes were deemed necessary to offset the loss of revenue from frozen upperclassman tuition, but that revenue could be made up elsewhere, such as adding to housing cost for students that can afford it.
These results, however, are not set in stone for all that follow a similar path. If a fixed tuition plan was implemented, it would be paramount that school officials take situations like this into consideration when planning for the annual cost increase for each new class. Unfortunately, while the affordability problem is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, grandfathering tuition is a good first step. The current language used to describe the fluctuation of tuition rates — which is a vague allusion to a possible 5 percent increase — is unacceptable.
Meal plan cost freezes, housing cost freezes and reduced tuition increases are part of Hamilton’s well-publicized budget proposals, but those methods still fall short. Students deserve to know how much they need to invest in their education, and their families need the peace of mind to ensure they can follow through for all four years — not get halfway through and have to cut their losses.
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, August 28 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]