Emerson students deserve transparency on the efforts administrators make with their finances

By Editorial Board

The Berkeley Beacon editorial staff is back with another edition of, “how many times will we have to say the same thing?” 

Emersonians received a community-wide email on Mar. 17 by Interim President William Giligan and Chairman of the Board Eric Alexander announcing another increase in undergraduate tuition and room and board charges for the 2022-23 academic year. 

After two sentences acknowledging the difficulties of the past two years of the pandemic on college students and their families, the Board of Trustees went on to announce that it had graciously approved another 2 percent increase in tuition and another 2.0 percent increase for room and board. 

There was a slight glimmer of hope from former President Lee Pelton in his 2019 State of the College address, when he acknowledged the “growing pressure among parents and students as well as among local and federal governments to rein in college tuition costs.”

That recent hope was fleeting, as our beloved administration and the Board have no intention of lowering tuition. In his recent letter to the editor, Gilligan vouched to ‘improve financial aid and support students,’ and yet, a month after that letter was published, students were hit with another increase in an already unsustainable price point. 

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Instead of reiterating the argument The Beacon has made before on how the cost of attendance at Emerson College is not sustainable for the vast majority of students—an argument that has seemingly been ignored—we should look at other schools in the United States that have to deal with—and avoid—the inexorable rise in tuition costs throughout the country. 

An article by The Hechinger Report highlights the overarching increase in higher education during this pandemic. The elements of the pandemic—decline in enrollment and COVID-19 restrictions—led to an initial halt in tuition increases. While COVID cases are slowly but surely declining, the pause in outrageously high tuition increases was sadly short-lived. 

Due to the effects of inflation, many universities have already announced an increase in tuition. The University of Virginia announced a raise in undergraduate tuition and fees by 4.7 percent for next year and University of North Carolina Wilmington voted to increase tuition by 3 percent. Institutions like the University of Illinois, where tuition had been flat for all but one year since 2015, are raising housing rates by 2 percent and tuition by just under 2 percent

The Boston College Board of Trustees recently voted to raise undergraduate tuition to $62,950 for the 2022–23 academic year, bringing the total cost of attendance (including the price of room and board fees) to $80,296. BC is not the only school in the Boston area that is hiking up its prices to the 80K range. Wellesley College for the next academic year is now set to be $81,000, and Boston University saw a 3 percent increase compared to academic year 2020-2021, bringing the annual cost of attendance for on campus students to $79,606

Students everywhere are facing the same issue as many Emerson students: currently enrolled students are being forced to pay bigger bills than they had anticipated when they initially enrolled. 

As previously stated, the conditions in which institutions have to mitigate the costs are complex, and to make the assumption that these increases are random or unnecessary would be false. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the business model of the common American University/College is unsustainable. This issue is not isolated to Emerson College, yet as one of the most expensive schools in the country, where about 60 percent of students apply for financial aid, the administration should actively look for a solution.   

No solution to this hike is one size fits all, but there has been some effort to help students across the board. Some governors, such as Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster proposed a freeze in the current increase, and the University of South Carolina has already announced that it will not increase tuition in the fall. 

Other representatives like California Gov. Gavin Newsom have pledged 5 percent budget increases in each of the next five years for that state’s public institutions if they propose lowering the cost of attendance. Because of this, the California State University system has promised that it won’t raise its tuition next year. 

Other universities have changed their business models, like The University of Massachusetts which centralized its purchasing system for each campus in 2020. Already, the change has saved them over $34 million by the middle of the year. For private universities and nonprofits like Emerson College that don’t see government regulation or funding, lowering tuition is still an option. Research suggests that tuition reductions lead to higher enrollment rates raising the overall net revenue.

The promise of a tuition reduction, as we have seen, is far from the horizon, but it’s a promise we should continue to advocate for. Students are drowning in debt, while a low-percentage of Emerson students receive the full need-based financial aid they need. Most of us are reaching a breaking point where the price tag is too high to ever meet, aid or no aid. 

We urge Emerson administrators to compromise and present transparency to their student body. We need to understand how these decisions are made, where our money is being spent, and why. More importantly, we want to see some effort to reduce, or at the very least freeze, these exorbitant costs.