Yearly tuition increases should not become the norm

The+Office+of+Financial+Aid+in+the+Union+Bank+Building.+

Photo: Diana Bravo

The Office of Financial Aid in the Union Bank Building.

By Shannon Garrido and Lucia Thorne

On March 15, Emerson announced a “flexibility week” meant to tackle the steady decline of students’ mental health. That same week, it was announced that not only will Emerson students not receive a vaccine from the college before the end of this semester, but tuition will increase for all undergraduate students for the second consecutive year.

It’s incredibly ironic that the same week the administration attempted to ease students’ academic burnout, they sent two emails adding to their stress. This pandemic has not only been incredibly draining for students who try to follow guidelines and keep themselves healthy, but places a suffocating financial burden on them as well.

In an email from President M. Lee Pelton last week, the college announced that “The Board of Trustees has approved a 2.0% overall increase in tuition for current undergraduate students. For students living on campus, the room and board charges will also increase by 2.0%.” In total, students living on campus would end up paying approximately $79,033 a year, should they not have financial aid. 

“Next year’s tuition and fees take into account the continued investment that the College will make to ensure a safe and robust academic experience for all of our students—along with the deep recognition that many students and their families remain affected by the economic difficulties resulting from the pandemic,” the email reads.

The Board’s “recognition” of students’ financial needs could best be compared to the sentiment of “thoughts and prayers.” However, the most ironic part of it all is that Emerson costs too much for most of its students to begin with. 

Get This Week's News

All the big stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning 

For most undergraduate students, the total cost for their degree will be about $241,357, making it 66 percent more expensive than the national average tuition for a private non-profit four-year college, according to CollegeCalc.org. Needless to say, tuition was never close to affordable, and the administration is well aware of the economic vulnerability of many Emerson students. 

In response to the administration’s email, an Instagram account was created, calling for a strike against tuition’s continued rise. This account, @emerson_college_tuition_strike, brought attention back to the college’s past statements, including the “2019 State of the College.” 

In the address, the college promised they are working to lower tuition as they say they know “there is growing pressure among parents and students as well as among local and federal governments to rein in college tuition costs.” Of course, this is a promise that has not been kept.

According to U.S. News, only 9.4 percent of need-based financial aid at Emerson was fully met, even though 63.3 percent of students applied for financial aid for the 2020-21 school year.  Approximately 52 percent of students took out loans averaging $12,481 a year, adding up to $49,924 over four years, according to College Factual. The average Emerson student’s level of debt is close to the average salary of students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree, which is about $46,600 a year

Adding excruciating debt to the list of expenses for the average college student can become overwhelming for many students.

Freshman visual media arts major Andrew Zemotel joked about the severe impact student debt has on him and the people around him. Coming from a single-parent household, his financial background reflects his views on the tuition increase. “I found that a lot of people, myself included, joke about ‘oh we are gonna be six figures in-debt,’” Zemotel said. “Because the other option is panic attacks.” 

Knowing the severity that student loan debt has on millions of students, in the same “2019 State of the College” announcement, the administration stated that their aim was “to begin to make progress on these issues over the next few years, beginning with the FY ’21 budget, if possible.” Yet, as the 2021 spring semester comes to an end, they still announce another tuition increase.

Across the country, this pandemic has left many students experiencing high rates of anxiety, depression, and financial instability. 54.5 percent of students reported anxiety or depression as a result of COVID-19 in an April 2020 study of City University of New York students, but what’s more worrisome is that 81 percent of students reported a loss of household income.

As Zemotel said, even though this increase is only a couple thousand dollars more “that’s still a couple of thousand dollars that a lot of people don’t have.” 

Taking pre-existing financial conditions of students, and adding a pandemic on top of that, has left many unable to adapt to the college’s announced financial changes. So much for the “aim” to help reduce the financial burden during Wellness week. 

Personally, these announcements being sent back to back don’t make me feel “well.” The college is well aware of the financial burden that many of its students face, as stated both in the recent email about tuition rising and the “2019 State of The College” address. They know this, and yet tuition continues to spike. 

The student tuition strike on Instagram has gained a couple hundred followers, and they are doing their part in spreading a much needed message. We need Emerson to take their students’ financial security seriously, and make the effort to allocate financial aid instead of sending out tone-deaf emails. We can no longer afford the college’s empty promises.

 

Show your support for essential student journalism

News and the truth are under constant attack in our current moment, just when they are needed the most. The Beacon’s quality, fact-based accounting of historic events has never mattered more, and our editorial independence is of paramount importance. We believe journalism is a public good that should be available to all regardless of one’s ability to pay for it. But we can not continue to do this without you. Every little bit, whether big or small, helps fund our vital work — now and in the future.