Tuition forum talks financial aid, avoids discussion of adjunct compensation

Sam Flaster | Staff Reporter

Administrators discussed plans to increase need-based financial aid while remaining need-aware at Monday night’s Student Union tuition forum.

Upper-level administrators presented information about tuition increases and socioeconomic diversity efforts before a question-and-answer session.

Provost Holden Thorp speaks at the Student Union Tuition Forum on Monday night in Umrath Lounge. This annual event featured five senior administrators from Wash. U. who discussed financial issues on campus.Ariel Vasser | Student Life

Provost Holden Thorp speaks at the Student Union Tuition Forum on Monday night in Umrath Lounge. This annual event featured five senior administrators from Wash. U. who discussed financial issues on campus.

Students appreciated the administration’s increased focus on financial aid, but many students were not satisfied with the attention given to rising housing costs and adjunct faculty salaries, with Chancellor Mark Wrighton declining to answer a question about the latter.

In his presentation, Wrighton said the forum was part of the information the Board of Trustees considered when making recommendations to the Washington University finance committee on tuition for the next year.

Vice Chancellor for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Barb Feiner evaluated the effectiveness of University efforts to expand need-based financial aid in recent years in her presentation, citing last year’s 3.5 percent tuition increase as the lowest in 47 years. She also discussed recent increases in financial aid funding.

“The current estimate for financial gift aid this year is $108 million, compared to $99 million last year, marking a 9 percent increase in financial aid, more than the increase in tuition. This is partly in response to our efforts to improve socioeconomic diversity as well as our Pell initiative,” Feiner said.

Feiner added that despite room and board and tuition increases, students receiving need-based aid pay around the same amount now as they did in 2008, when the University adopted a no-loan policy.

Wrighton responded to student concerns about the University marketing housing amenities to attract high-income students while rapidly increasing room and board costs.

“I’m proud that we have arguably the best residential environment. What we need to do is make sure that all of our admitted students can afford to be here, that’s what we’re striving to do with our financial aid programs. But we have to do many things simultaneously to strengthen the University,” Wrighton said.

Wrighton also addressed concerns about the endowment’s focus on new construction.

“When you look at our fundraising here, and you see all of the buildings, you could get the impression that our fundraising efforts are centered around facilities. But the preponderance of the funding we’re receiving in the campaign is for people and programs—the $300 million in financial aid, the 92 new endowed professorships,” Wrighton added.

When asked, Wrighton also discussed the University’s lack of a need-blind admissions policy, saying the University planned to remain need-aware for the foreseeable future.

“We set a tuition revenue target each year for our ambitious programmatic agenda. As we grow in financial aid resources through growth in the endowment and gifts, we’ll be able to be less concerned,” Wrighton said.

One student asked the panel what merited high administrator salaries while adjunct professors live in poverty. Wrighton declined to comment, instead noting the economic difficulties of faculty compensation.

“The adjunct faculty have provided a very important contribution to the educational experience of many of our students. Comparing this to a more broad conversation, faculty compensation is a key contributor to upward pressure on tuition. I believe we’ve done a fabulous job in the last 20 years or so to build endowment to support faculty,” Wrighton said.

Thorp particularly thanked the Washington University Students for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity (WU/FUSED) group for raising awareness.

Junior Shaun Ee, a member of WU/FUSED, was impressed with the forum’s focus on financial aid.

“I’m really happy about it—that wasn’t something they were talking about two years ago. A commitment to raising financial aid of this magnitude is really significant,” Ee said.

But Ee also feels the panel didn’t do enough to address concerns about affordable housing.

“It’s important to meet a certain standard of living—Ruby probably needed an overhaul—but there’s a difference between being at the top of the pack and having solid living conditions. Wash. U. is pivoting to the top of the pack, which is worrying on two levels. One, I wouldn’t want to see an arms race between universities regarding dorm quality and expenses and two, it excludes low-income students,” Ee said.

Freshman Alex Sanchez said he believes an increased focus on socioeconomic diversity has helped pressure the administration to respond and is optimistic about the university’s efforts.

“I didn’t realize that not a lot of the endowment can be used for financial aid. With more awareness about socioeconomic diversity, like the New York Times article that came out last year, I think there’s more pressure to change…hopefully with this prevalence comes more financial aid for students,” Sanchez said.

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