Caroline Ahearn, News Editor
Just two hours after students received an email informing them of the $2,200 increase in tuition, standard room and board, and mandatory fees for the 2018-2019 academic year, the Student Government Association hosted a Tuition Transparency Town Hall in Rehm Library on Wednesday, February 7.
The email from Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J. announced that the Board of Trustees voted at their February meeting to set next year’s tuition at $66,620, excluding the meal plan and representing a 4.25 percent base increase over current changes. Fr. Boroughs went on to state that the Board “takes very seriously the pressures and challenges that families and businesses face today,” and that “access to and the affordability of a Holy Cross education remain a top priority to all of us at the College.”
“I think a lot of people wanted some answers,” said Matthew Wolfe, SGA Director of Student Outreach, “considering the student body was not previously aware of the impending vote to increase our tuition on February 2.”
Many students felt frustration at the increased price, and filled Rehm Library to the point of standing room only on Wednesday evening for SGA’s Town Hall. The town hall was moderated by SGA Co-President Donald Stephens, who is also one of three students on the College’s financial planning committee, and featured a brief presentation by Dorothy Hauver, Vice President of Administration and Finance, and Tracy Barlok, Vice President of Advancement, before the floor was opened up to questions.
The opening presentation broke down the budget for the 2018 fiscal year so that students could have a better sense of where their tuition dollars go. In 2018, net student revenues (coming from tuition and various fees) was 127.6 million dollars, which made up approximately 68 percent of the College’s budget and supported 68 percent of campus operations such as maintenance, salaries, student services, and need-based financial aid. The remaining 32 percent of operating support is paid by other means. Hauver and Barlok’s presentation also featured comparisons to other colleges and universities in the area and of comparable academic reputation.
Although the presentation was a thorough and informative explanation of the budget process, many students still had points of confusion and contestation to be raised during the Q&A portion of the evening. In a combination of pre-submitted questions and students approaching the microphone, attendees raised questions and concerns about financial aid, managing costs, and why most of the benefits of increased spending by the College, such as the renovated Hart Center, the Joyce Contemplative Center, and the plans for a performing arts center and renovating the field house into a health and wellness center, will not be able to be enjoyed by all of the students. In fact, after one student raised the point that the new Hart Center is nice, but the majority of students cannot use it, she was met with applause from the audience around her.
“SGA receives many questions from students either via email or in our suggestion box asking why tuition dollars are being spent on building the new capital projects or why the residence halls aren’t receiving any money for improvements and these actually aren’t correct,” said Stephens. “The buildings are funded mostly by donations and the residence halls undergo improvements each year. So we hoped the town hall could help provide students [with] more nuanced insight into how their tuition dollars are spent.”
Another major concern of students was that as their tuition, including room and board, increases, no improvements in living conditions are visible. As one student aptly pointed out, many dorms do not even have overhead lighting in the rooms. The panelists addressed this concern as a perpetual conversation, saying that every year the residence hall that most needs it gets some repairs, and that “out in the out years” there is potential for building a new residence hall, but were vague on specific plans for improving students’ living conditions in any immediate fashion.
Tracy Barlok’s response was that the College strengthens what it needs to strengthen in episodic moments based on input from trustees, faculty, and administrators, and on what the College can afford. She continued to get defensive as students continued to express their frustrations at spending choices by the College that while not directly funded by tuition are still not addressing the students’ most immediate concerns.
The largest point of confusion and contestation for students was the proposed $250 laundry fee, which Dorothy Hauver explained is not actually an additional fee and will instead be incorporated into the cost of housing. Said Hauver: “We decided to talk about it as a distinct issue this year so that we could be transparent about the change to the way the College will be handling both laundry charges and housing damage charges. We have found that the current process [of housing damage charges] can be frustrating for students when holds are put on their accounts when these sometimes small assessed amounts are not paid timely. Our thinking was that to simplify the process and eliminate the need to track and charge small amounts to individual students, the College would build a small amount into the housing charges to cover more minor residence hall damages.”
“The Office of Residential Life is still evaluating how to assess (and define) ‘major’ damages. As for the laundry portion, a student who does one load of laundry per week currently pays $96 in an academic year to do so. By making laundry “free” at the machines and not requiring coins and incorporating the cost of laundry into the housing cost, this seemed more convenient for students and thus an improvement to the student experience in the residence halls. The students on SGA seemed to agree.”
Following the Town Hall, both Stephens and Hauver agree that it is most important for students to know that in light of the increase in tuition, the College is committed to the need-blind policy and meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need, as well as maintaining the 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Additionally, in support of student’s mental health a fifth psychologist will be added to the Counseling Center and access to psychiatric services has been made permanent. There has also been increased staffing in Disability Services and Public Safety, and students will benefit from ongoing improvements and maintenance of buildings and grounds.
The panelists and the representatives from SGA all considered the Town Hall to be a success, glad that students in attendance had a platform to voice their concerns and with hopes that students have a better understanding of the budget and where their tuition money goes. For students who still have questions and concerns about the rise in tuition and where the money will go, SGA will be posting Tuition Transparency Frequently Asked Questions on their website soon, and Stephens encourages everyone to refer to the FAQ, send SGA an email, or stop by the open office hours in Hogan 220.