Students can expect a hike in tuition with a $3,000 increase for the 2020-21 academic year, according to an announcement released from the Westminster College administration Thursday.
Tuition costs will rise from $34,984 to $37,960 a year, which is roughly an 8.5% increase for both current and incoming students.
“This increase reflects our need to establish a tuition price that comes closer to the actual cost of educating students,” said President Beth Dobkin, in an email sent to the student body.
Tuition increases higher than national average
President Dobkin initially announced the news Nov. 13 in a public newsletter to staff and faculty. The increase is a jump from previous school years, with a 2.9% increase for 2019-20 and a 3% increase the year before that.
Nationally, Westminster’s administration has increased tuition at a lower rate than other four-year, non-profit private colleges in the U.S. On average, these private schools increased its tuition 3.4% from 2018-19 to 2019-20, according to The College Board.
This upcoming tuition hike will put Westminster 5% above last year’s national average increase. However, even with this increase, Westminster’s tuition is still lower than its peer schools.
“Relative to our private institution peer group […] we’re still far below,” Dobkin said in an interview with The Forum. “It’ll bring us a little closer, but it in no way will match.”
Over the last several years, the administration kept the increases as low as possible, according to the newsletter update from the president. This has resulted in a “significant gap over time” between Westminster’s tuition and its competitors.
“Our costs have gone up over the last ten years far faster than our tuition increases,” Dobkin said. “It’s not something we expect to do every year. It’s our realignment moment.”
This comes less than a year after several cuts to faculty and staff benefits in an effort to balance the school’s budget. Dobkin said this tuition increase will also work toward balancing that.
“We are just too far below,” Dobkin said. “We don’t get subsidies for operating costs from public funds or organizations. We’re not church-sponsored, we don’t get legislative funding. That’s what you pay for to be truly independent — which is a bigger asset than a lot of people realize. There’s a huge value in being truly independent.”
Dobkin said she is working with the financial aid office to reconfigure scholarship rewards. The plan is to increase scholarship amounts for incoming students and need-based scholarships for current students.
However, the logistics aren’t finalized yet and Dobkin said more information will be announced after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, she recommends students reach out to financial advisers with any concerns.
“We want to make sure that we can do some increases of financial aid for existing students in need, because it is a bigger increase than last year’s,” Dobkin said.
Student government responds
Rumors circulated campus earlier this week, causing students to feel uneasy about an unknown tuition increase.
The announcement has already elicited responses from members on campus, including ASW officers. Shortly after the email was sent out to students, ASW officers sent out a statement acknowledging concerns and offering opportunities for students to respond to the issue.
Officers expressed support for students to “use their voice in whatever capacity suits them best” citing the school’s’ protesting protocols in the Student Handbook on page 82.
“Students have every right to be upset,” said Maggie Regier, the president of ASW. “Students get to be upset and they get to talk about that. It’s a critical part of the student experience. If students wish to protest, they should be aware the Dean of Students has protocol on that.”
The decision was initially approved by the Board of Trustees during the 2019 Spring semester, according to Regier. She said students weren’t involved in the decision-making process and ASW was informed after the decision was finalized.
“I’m in a position of privilege by having the full context of the situation,” Regier said. “I want students to know why the increase is happening. But students deserve to get the information.”
According to Regier, President Dobkin informed ASW about the increase at the beginning of this semester. She said officers were aware the tuition costs would go up, but they weren’t told the monetary amount.
Regier said she and other officers became aware of the actual tuition costs when the newsletter was published in the Griffin Gazette earlier this month. Before the newsletter was sent out, Regier said she wrestled with the decision on whether to let students know before it was sent out to students.
According to Regier, the members of the administration planned to present the tuition increase sometime during the 2020 Spring semester, but she and her officers pushed the administration to announce it sooner.
“This sucks. And I want to make sure that students know that ASW wants to do our best to advocate for them,” Regier said. “The more they speak up, the more we can do. We truly value their voices. I want students to know they can come to the office about things they want to see or do.”
ASW Senators also openly responded to the issue during a tabling session in Shaw Student Center Thursday. Senator Tyler Mann said that while he understands why administration is doing it, he finds it unfair the way they are choosing to go about it.
“I think it’s unfair to raise it $3,000 directly for everybody,” said Mann, a junior majoring in geology. “That’s a huge increase in money for a single person.”
Aaron Smith, another ASW senator, said he agrees, adding that it’s unfair to the students who budgeted for the four years they’ll be here — only to be surprised with a large increase.
“As a senior who’s graduating, this 8% won’t affect me,” Smith said. “But I feel empathetic and sorry for all students who are going to be affected. Each time it gets raised, that makes it harder to keep attending this school and in all cases, makes them fully regret their decision to attend.”
ASW officers said they understand the concerns, struggles and frustrations students will have toward this news and they are prepared to support them.
ASW will be hosting small forums beginning in January, where President Dobkin will be present to hear student concerns and opinions on different issues. ASW will be gathering student feedback in the meantime to better understand how this tuition increase affects students and bring it to the administration’s attention.
The administration also plans on presenting the campus budget at the beginning of Spring semester, with the presentation currently scheduled for Jan. 29.
“I don’t think the administration fully realized the full impact it would have on students,” Regier said. “While they knew there would be a negative reaction, they did not think it would be to the extent it is or it is going to be.”