When Joshua Jackson applied to NYU, he didn’t expect to get full exposure to its financial classism. Jackson, a senior at Brown University, wrote to request an application fee waiver for Tisch’s Art & Public Policy Masters program, which claims it enables its graduates to be “connected to the pulse of social justice.”
But Dan Sandford, Director of Graduate Admissions at Tisch who turned down Jackson’s request, set serious doubt on the supposed new emphasis universities put on a diverse student body of all backgrounds.
“Please do not take this the wrong way,” Sandford wrote, “but if $65 is a hardship for you how will you be able to pay the tuition of $60,000?”
Sandford continued, explaining that “the department would have to absorb the loss” when an applicant is unable to pay the $65 fee. Fee waivers have become a nominal and symbolic method for higher education institutions to claim they are increasing their accessibility, but NYU refused to grant Jackson even this — the smallest of gestures.
NYU’s reluctance to help students in need of financial support is indicative of its continued culture of elitism among administrators and admissions officers.
NYU is among the nation’s wealthiest universities, touting a $4.3 billion endowment. Sitting on this considerable wealth, it has been able to extend loans for its faculty to buy vacation homes, award its president with one of the highest salaries in the nation and further extend its global and local takeover through building yet another study away site and a $6 billion expansion plan to gentrify another 980,000 square feet of Greenwich Village.
Despite this affluence, NYU has done little to help its low-income students. If NYU refuses to extend even minimal support to its non-wealthy applicants, how could it possibly extend real support to its students in need of financial assistance?
Simply put — it doesn’t.
On average, one year at NYU costs $76,612, but according to a study conducted by the College Board, the university only meets 65% of financial need on average. Studies have shown that even small debts increase a student’s chase of dropping out — particularly for minority and low-income students. Yet, NYU’s Pell grant recipients — students from families that make less than $30,000 — owe a median debt of $23,250 after graduation.
This lack of affordability has caused some students to stop their education altogether. In 2014, Lucy Parks wrote a letter to former president John Sexton after being forced to drop out of NYU due to a lack of adequate financial aid. Parks noted in her letter that Sexton made “nearly $1.5 million a year and as one of [his] students [she] often had to go hungry.” Parks continues, describing the poverty and desperation certain students face at such a wealthy school and noting how administrators and professors are given “kickbacks and swanky vacation home packages” while other students are forced to live in Bobst because they can’t afford housing.
Additionally, international students are not eligible for federal financial aid, federal student loans or institutional aid, meaning all of these students are paying full cost to come here. If anything, NYU — the advertised global university with the highest number of international students of any college in the U.S — should be even more incentivized to improve its financial aid in order to attract the brightest students from a more financially diverse pool of candidates.
NYU’s blase attitude to affordability and its student’s financial situations was demonstrated again in 2018 in response to student group NYU Divest, who carried out a protest on the stairway of Kimmel. NYU — which has sponsored exhibitions documenting how integral student activism is to shape its history and policies — contacted the protestors’ emergency contacts and threatened to revoke the students’ housing and financial aid if they continued protesting. University spokesperson, John Beckman, stated that “disrupting university operations is not the same thing as dissent.” Protest is only valued at NYU when it’s palatable and easy to ignore. NYU will continue to utilize financial manipulation to suppress student voices, disproportionately affecting those who can’t afford to face administrative backlash.
By holding each student’s financial situation over their heads in order to intimidate them into backing down, NYU demonstrates how little they value students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds — if you receive money from NYU, you’re expected to sit down and shut up.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 3, 2020 print edition. Email Emily Dai at [email protected]