Socioeconomic diversity: It’s time to move forward

| Staff Ed

In an interview with Student Life last week, speaker of the SU Senate sophomore Mamatha Challa asked about Wash. U.’s sharp price tag.

“It makes you wonder what it is that causes our tuition to be so high in the first place,” she said. “Yes, education is incredibly expensive, but what are we doing that makes it so expensive?”

It’s official: Wash. U. ain’t cheap. The University recently made the top 35 schools in CampusGrotto’s ranking of most expensive schools, thanks to a total yearly price tag of $51,918.

Wash. U. certainly isn’t unique in its high cost. Nearly 50 colleges and universities in the CampusGrotto ranking topped the $50,000 mark, and 43 more demand upwards of $40,000. Nationwide, average college tuition has increased at three times the rate of inflation for the last two decades. And strikingly, despite its high cost, only about 60 percent of Wash. U. students receive financial aid.

Statistics have revealed the magnitude of the problem; now we need Wash. U. administrators to step up with solutions. Much has been made of the apparent lack of socioeconomic diversity on campus, but we feel that little has been done.

True, the University began a financial aid and scholarship initiative “Opening Doors to the Future” just over one year ago, with the ultimate goal of raising $150 million from alumni and friends of the University. But if costs for undergraduates continue to rise at the approximately 4 percent rate of the last couple of years, this money will hardly make a dent over the long term. Wash. U. needs to be attracting a greater number of students from middle-class and low-income backgrounds; instead of doing so, the money will probably end up assisting prospective and current students from the upper middle class, who are nevertheless on the financial margin of being able to afford a Wash. U. education.

We encourage the University to continue this scholarship initiative to raise the target amount of fundraising, but further steps are needed to move forward on socioeconomic diversity among undergraduates. For one, Wash. U.’s ostentatious facilities (think of the plasma TVs at Bear’s Den and the DUC) are not only unnecessary, they may turn lower-income students off. Though we appreciate how hard our University works to make campus beautiful, we can’t help but presume that some visiting students are overwhelmed by the excessive display of wealth.

We also feel that admissions officers should visit high schools that are more socioeconomically diverse and reach out to students from a broader spectrum of financial backgrounds. The Office of Alumni and Development targets a specific network of schools, many of which are high-caliber “feeder” high schools. Reaching out to students from different backgrounds—who are less likely to have heard of Wash. U. in the first place—will enhance opportunities for these students.

Most importantly, we want more information about where money is being spent and how the University plans to move forward. As Challa indicates, students have little idea of how our tuition money is used. More transparency won’t necessarily reduce the burden our families bear, but it will help generate ideas among the student body about what is and isn’t needed. That way, we can finally move forward.

  • Jerome Bauer

    @Hmm:

    “You want more socioeconomic diversity? WashU needs to give more scholarships. Period.” I agree with everything but the Period. Why stop there?

    In Spring 03 I discussed this issue with my Theories of Religion class. I pointed out that the high cost of tuition makes our students less willing to take risks than college students ought to be. This is true even for students on full scholarship, because “anything that’s given may be taken away.” One of my students, on full scholarship, gave a resounding “YES!!!!” from the back of the room. Inflated tuition gives us too much power over our students. So much of what we have to do as teachers involves renunciation of this power. Our students, these days, need permission not to ask permission, and rules for how to break the rules. They need structured freedom, so they, and their parents, can feel safe about the risks they must take and the exploration they must make, as students.

    I agree that more low income scholarships would be a good start. My sponsor was anonymous (probably Norman McLean), but I know a University College scholarship student whose sponsor takes seriously her role as mentor, and frequently meets with her sponsored student. I think this should be left up to the individual students and their patrons.

    Concerning my point below, about the masked functions of an elite college (marriage arrangement and job placement service), when people begin to say, “You fool! You [or your parents] paid [or you borrowed] a hundred thousand dollars for THAT?” the game will finally be up. When our alumni begin to leave their degrees off their resumes, the game will be up. This may already be happening. At one of my alumni club meetings, I met someone who was trying to get a job for a non-profit, but nobody would believe that she would take a pay cut, since she had a high priced MBA, from a prestigious but famously right wing program. That association was proving the kiss of death for her. When she asked me what I had been doing lately, I told her all about the People’s Settlement, MORE, M-SLICE, the St Louis Activist Hub, the WashU Cooperative, the Student-Worker Alliance, and the Initiative to Reform Lecturer’s Policy and Provide Fairer Deals for Adjuncts. Her eyes lit up, just as if she had finally struck pay dirt, and I realized that I ought to put all this on my CV and resume. Perhaps she ought to leave her MBA off hers.

    It didn’t used to cost so much. It doesn’t have to cost so much now. Our nation’s Bible Colleges, for example Central Christian College north of Columbia, Missouri, and St Louis Christian College, are experimenting with tuition free college for students living on campus, in exchange for community service. When the experiment was announced, alumni and church donations surged. This could work at a secular school as well. It doesn’t have to cost so much. You don’t have to pay so much.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    –Cervantes Free University and Learning Cooperative, http://www.cfu-lc.com, free to the unemployed, yoga center rates, with a money back guarantee, for everybody else; why don’t YOU take the initiative too, and start your own university?

    “Start your own revolution, and cut out the middle man…”–Billy Bragg, “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward”

  • Hmm.

    “For one, Wash. U.’s ostentatious facilities (think of the plasma TVs at Bear’s Den and the DUC) are not only unnecessary, they may turn lower-income students off.”

    Hmm. Let’s consider this thought for more than one second. For me, as a student, tuition is essentially a fixed cost. (A low income student will probably get more need-based financial aid, as well, which makes expenditures by the university even less personally relevant.) Presumably, because of the way the endowment and tuition is structured, I’ll be paying the same amount regardless of whether there are plasma TVs in the DUC. Because of this, I want to see this sort of display of ostentatious wealth because the marginal cost to me is zero. It’s rather pejorative to presume that lower SES individuals don’t appreciate the benefit (plasma TVs) at the cost (personally: zero.) You may be “embarrassed” by the outlandish displays, but its your iphones– not the communal plasma TVs- that are more of a turn-off.

    You want more socioeconomic diversity? WashU needs to give more scholarships. Period. And Studlife should stop treating lower income individuals like they can’t also appreciate nice things.

  • Jerome Bauer

    @Katherine: longer library hours will enhance learning, and serve the legitimate educational mission of a purported educational institution. I have no problem with THAT. If our students would spend more time in the library, I would be more inclined to support tax breaks and taxpayer support, and even accreditation, for institutions of this sort.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    –Grass Roots Talent Search [low income] Scholarship Recipient, The University of Chicago (where fun comes to die!)

  • Katherine O.

    I find that this editorial unfairly shifts the blame solely to the institution of Wash U, especially in light of Student Life’s editorial just two days ago. In it, Student Life called for longer library hours, a service that costs money. I think the student body must also take some responsibility for the demands we make of our university– some of them frivolous luxuries not afforded to students at other schools. For example, most schools do not have dining venues sprinkled throughout campus for convenience’s sake or have dining halls that stay open late into the night. Here, having a single room has become the standard for upperclassmen dorm living. Ask your friends at other schools what type of rooming or dining situations are available to them, and I think you will quickly discover that ours it outside the norm. I do not fault students for wanting these things, but you cannot also simultaneously think that it is solely the university’s fault for the steep tuition. In my experience, I have found that students have extraordinarily high expectations for what their university provides them, which the university strives to meet, costing them money. Maybe they should not indulge our whims so much, so then the education could be more affordable for all.

  • Jerome Bauer

    “It makes you wonder what it is that causes our tuition to be so high in the first place,” she said. “Yes, education is incredibly expensive, but what are we doing that makes it so expensive?””

    Here is my letter published in response to an alum response to the annual Student Life Valentine’s Day “Sex Issue,” 09, entitled by the editors “Grow Up”:

    “Dear Editor,

    I read with amusement your annual Sex Issue. St. Valentine’s Day is to celebrate all kinds of love, not just sex. I remember reader responses in past years, pointing this out, but still you persist.

    In an online discussion of the economic crisis, an alum pointed out that many think twice about supporting the University due to the hedonistic lifestyle promoted by Student Life in recent years. I hope your Sex Issue has not cost our students even ONE low income scholarship.

    Whenever I suggest, in online discussion or on an exam, that one carefully masked mission of an elite American university is to serve as an upscale job placement and matchmaking service, and that is why it has to cost so much–, to keep the riff-raff out–, even normally friendly students want to throw things at me. Many Asian students, however, say “Right on, Dr. Bauer, these Americans are such hypocrites about their matchmaking.” We Americans are hypocrites about a lot of things.

    To the extent that institutions of this sort reinforce the division into Two Americas, they do more harm than good to our nation. Perhaps we should rethink our mission. Perhaps our students should grow up a bit.

    I quote Richard Thompson: “Overpaid, oversexed, and over here, get smart, gringo, disappear.””

    The Marxist historian Professor David Ludden of the University of Pennsylvania, my neighbor and boss when I worked as Outreach Associate for the South Asia Center, used to make a similar point in his classes, whenever American students would express horror at the Indian system of arranged marriage. He got a similar reaction.

    It is more fruitful to discuss these issues in a classroom of mixed ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic class, and age group. That is why my University College (evening school) classes were almost always my favorite to teach.

    A friend at UPenn, an undergraduate in the Wharton Business School, opined that Wharton is really an expensive job placement service, but they do that well and you get a decent liberal arts education into the bargain, and so it was worth the loan money. At that time it probably was, but in THIS economy, who will pay for Chivas Regal? Who will pay inflated tuitiion if one’s dream job no longer awaits one after graduation?

    On the other hand, it might still be worth it to pay that much to hook up with a rich and privileged partner. Nobody will admit to this, but as the Marxist history professor, David Ludden, pointed out, most of our American marriage arrangement is done behind the scenes, and is carefully masked. We CHOOSE our own partners freely, here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, don’t we?

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    –Initiative for Lecturer’s Policy Reform and Fairer Deals for Adjuncts
    –Local homeowner and TAXPAYER who narrowly averted foreclosure and homelessness thanks to vigorous student activism (thank you!)
    –Active member, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (it’s the least I can do, to pay it forward…)
    –Former member, American Oriental Society, American Academy of Religion, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, American Anthropological Association, et. al., whose membership fees I can no longer afford…

    “Freedom is merely privilege extended, unless enjoyed by one and all”–The Internationale, Billy Bragg version