Boston University President Robert Brown emailed parents and students last week to announce an increase in costs for the upcoming academic year. Standard tuition will be $55,892, a 3.6 percent increase for 2019-20, and basic room and board expenses will be $16,160, a 2.8 percent increase. This represents a 3.4 percent overall increase, “the lowest rate of increase in 27 years,” according to the email.
These increases are expected, but it’s difficult to see why they are justified.
Many students do not pay the full sticker price to attend BU — and those who do can likely afford a $55,892 tuition — because of financial aid. But this aid is limited greatly. The average annual cost to attend BU, after financial aid, is still about $35,000.
Thirty-seven percent of undergraduates receive federal loans, and the average total federal loan debt after graduation is $25,625.
In his email, Brown stated there will be a 10 percent increase in the undergraduate financial aid budget next year. This is a commendable step, but it simply isn’t enough.
A 3.6 percent increase in tuition far exceeds inflation and wage growth rates. Modest tuition increases may be necessary to keep up with the rising costs of paying professors and other staff, but a 3.6 percent increase is likely not proportional to the increases in the wages of these workers.
The university should seriously consider “locking-in” tuition rates for its undergraduate students. This means a student would pay the same amount in tuition for all four years they are on campus, taking away the uncertainty and, albeit mild, surprise that comes with an annual email from [email protected]
What’s more, having tuition set for all four years would enable students to make a more financially informed decision come May of their senior year of high school. This wouldn’t make BU much less expensive, but it would make it much more transparent.
A common justification for increasing the cost of university attendance is that new and improved facilities mean a higher quality of student life, for which it is worth paying more. In some cases, this is true — but while tuition for everyone gets more expensive at BU, the university seems to be focusing its efforts on projects that do not benefit the average undergraduate student.
New and refurbished residences like StuVi II and Myles Standish Hall are prohibitively expensive for many students. Moreover, funding allocated to the construction of new STEM buildings benefits only a small portion of the undergraduate student body.
And when it comes to services that are accessible to every undergraduate, the university needs to do better. The BU Shuttle, and especially its app, have issues that seriously need to be addressed. Dorms like Warren Towers, Danielsen Hall and The Towers are in desperate need of renovation.
There are many reasons why BU is an excellent place to go to school. A BU degree provides immense value, mostly in enhanced career opportunities. The median salary for those who received federal aid, 10 years after entering BU, is more than $65,000.
It’s fair to say when it comes to raising tuition, BU is simply following the trends. There is a certain air of inevitably about tuition increases these days, and, frankly, it’s difficult to see why BU wouldn’t keep raising its price of entry. Tens of thousands of students apply to this school every year, and tens of thousands more will continue to apply as the years go on.
But attending BU is a privilege, and many students accept tuition increases because we are complacent with the status quo. It’s important to remember that for those of us who can truly afford it, complacency is a privilege in itself.
Most students come to BU not for the university’s fanciest new facilities — we attend for the highly ranked academics, the value a degree provides and the wealth of opportunities in our urban backyard.
It’s difficult to imagine how any college education could be worth more than $72,000. But if a BU education is, then the university must do a better job at demonstrating why.