Tuition Precludes Economic Diversity

Emory’s total tuition, fees and room and board for the 2015-2016 academic year stood at $63,058, higher than the median American household income of $57,617, according to census data from those years. Even after financial aid is taken into account, the majority of students at Emory have made financial contributions to the University: Net tuition and fees are the second-largest revenue source for Emory, preceded only by revenue from Emory University Hospital (EUH). Emory’s tuition makes attendance extremely exclusive in an age when many — particularly marginalized groups underrepresented in higher education — cannot afford college despite the financial aid schools offer. According to a study by the New America Foundation, 68 percent of colleges direct scholarship money toward students who don’t need it in order to attract higher-caliber applicants.

Thus, Emory’s tuition is counterproductive to its values, which, in the words of University President Claire E. Sterk, include equality and inclusion. In the past, Emory has given no reasons for tuition increases and has stated no intention of lowering costs to make our institution more economically accessible. This problem is not unique to Emory, whose tuition and fees are approximately $5,000 lower than the average among the top 40 U.S. Colleges, according to the U.S. News and World Rankings.

Emory is also woefully unforthcoming about where students’ tuition goes. The University’s audit documents fail to entirely disaggregate expenditures on Emory Healthcare from those on educational facilities; it is impossible to know whether tuition subsidizes the hospital or if it’s the other way around. Although the EUH improves the quality of medical, nursing and other health programs, students should know how much of their tuition pays for those programs.

Neither do the school’s financial documents publish expenditures on administrative salaries, to which the rising cost of college is often attributed. In 2014, the University presidents salary was $1,200,633 — more than twice the national average. Despite having all the information, the University has failed to make it public. Moving forward, University administrators must be more transparent about this data so that current and future tuition-payers can decide whether their money is being well spent.

While Emory administrators have made great efforts to publicize their commitment to sustainability and social justice initiatives, there have been no widely-publicized attempts to make Emory more economically diverse, and even the Campus Life Compact for Building an Inclusive Community at Emory says little about economic diversity.

Economic diversity is inseparable from the University’s stated value of inclusivity, and Emory’s financial aid system is not enough to counteract the exclusivity that high tuition creates. According to a study published in January, a disproportionate 14.9 percent of Emory students come from the top 1 percent of American families, with annual incomes of more than $630,000, while only 27.7 percent come from the bottom 60 percent — families earning less than $65,000 a year. Some schools fare much worse; Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) has greater than three times more one-percenters than 60th-percentile students.

The various financial aid packages provided by the federal government, state governments, independent nonprofits and colleges themselves amount to an accounting labyrinth. Much of this system uses tax documents to establish students’ financial need and therefore is just as manipulable by those with access to skilled financial advisers as the federal tax system, and just as impenetrable to those without it. For Emory, federal Pell Grant awards are capped at less than $6,000. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and the Emory Advantage program, which aim “to make an Emory education attainable for any qualified student regardless of income,” reduce, but don’t eliminate, the debt burden faced by students.

While students protested possible tuition hikes at University of California, Berkeley, there has been little activism at Emory about this issue. Students speaking up and caring about tuition increases — which have amounted to almost $9,000 over the past four years — would be a good start to change and could make alumni and trustees, who have more influence over University policy, aware that Emory’s high tuition works against its mission. Emory has no excuse for its tuition to rise at a faster rate than inflation, yet the cost of attending Emory increased by 1 or 2 percent more than inflation nine years out of 10 between 2002 and 2012.

Some experts who discuss rising costs of attending college rationalize these tuition increases as an effect of market processes, with universities viewed as firms, education as a service and rising costs an inevitable result of demand outstripping supply. Those who take this approach misunderstand the nature of universities. With several exceptions, universities like Emory and most of its peer institutions are not companies, and they do not maximize their profits like firms do — there would be nobody to collect the profits that they bring in. We are all here, students, faculty and administrators alike, because we are committed to learning and furthering the University’s ability to achieve its educational and scholarly goals. Our school’s mission statement even says that Emory’s goal is to “create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.” That sentiment is echoed by University leadership at every opportunity. Emory needs to be transparent about where tuition money goes and must take steps to cut unnecessary expenditures so that more deserving students can attend, rather than favoring those who can afford it.

 

David Hervey is a College senior from San Diego.

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