WU ranked 35th most expensive

| Editor in Chief

Washington University moved up three spots to crack America’s top-35 most expensive schools in tuition, room and board in a ranking compiled by CampusGrotto released this week.

The University’s 2010-2011 price tag for undergraduates is $51,918, up from $49,860 in 2009-2010.

Though Student Financial Services (SFS) meets 100 percent of demonstrated need, only 47 percent of students currently receive financial aid. Last year, in a survey of 520 students, Washington University Students for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity (WU/FUSED) found that the average family income of a Washington University student is $180,000, which is well above the national average.

“Wash. U. does a great job of supporting its students financially,” said 2010 alum Chase Sackett, the co-founder of both WU/FUSED and its nationwide counterpart, U/FUSED. “The larger issue is attracting students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to come to the University in the first place.”

According to SFS director Bill Witbrodt, this year’s tuition hike was normal, and students’ financial aid packages have adjusted accordingly.

But, Witbrodt says, the University’s near-$52,000 sticker price can act as a deterrent to students and parents from lower-income backgrounds.

“It certainly is something that catches people’s attention,” he said.

Accordingly, this year’s WU/FUSED leaders are working to publicize the accessibility of a Washington University education to students who may not have full access to information about financial aid.

According to sophomore Donna Leung and junior Betel Ezaz, the group’s co-chairs, WU/FUSED has worked with the admissions office to make sure that promotional materials include information about SFS. They have also coordinated with admissions directors to form more direct relationships with college counselors at public schools.

However, many student leaders say that the University’s student culture—where 53 percent of students come from families that can afford a $208,000 education without financial aid—creates cultural inequalities that are difficult to remedy.

“Where the biggest disparity lies is not necessarily with official, University-sponsored activities and endeavors, but with social events that are more unofficial. For some students, taking a cab down to the Landing and back every week to go to Morgan Street and buy a couple of drinks is just an expense they can’t afford,” said senior David Cohen, speaker of Student Union Treasury.

And these inequalities—from the perspective of a prospective student—are significant, according to Sackett and Ezaz.

“When a [prospective] student visits campus, they’re affected by the atmosphere. It’s about how people dress…how they carry themselves. Lower-income students may not feel comfortable in that atmosphere, and there’s a lot of responsibility from the student body in that respect,” Sackett said.

Ezaz points to the near $13,500 that the University charges for room, board and activity and health fees—costs not confronted in many financial aid packages—as another potential deterrent for students and parents from low-income backgrounds.

“We’re charging $14,000 for things that aren’t education. That’s going to be a crucial part of whether or not they’re going to come here,” Ezaz said. “Paying for top-caliber dorms and dining halls may not make sense for students from low-income families.”

Washington University is not alone in its price hike—48 colleges surpassed the $50,000 mark in the CampusGrotto rankings this year, and according to the website, average college tuition has increased at three times the rate of inflation for the past 20 years.

Sarah Lawrence College topped this year’s list for the second year running, with a price tag of $56,420. Most of the colleges in the top 35, like Washington University, are private colleges with low student-to-teacher ratios.

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