Tuition talks are a two-way street

The truth of the matter is there is no simple way to find out what exactly students’ tuition goes toward. Photo: Cassandra Martinez

When student protesters marched across campus and into Faculty Assembly last fall, they called for more than just a few conciliatory remarks and an email from administration. They asked for real, immediate structural change for the benefit of disenfranchised students of color, and they were promised action. Now, months later, they are seeing their demands seemingly disregarded, as the school announced a 4.1% tuition increase for next year.

I wasn’t surprised by the tuition increase, but I was surprised at the fact that the email was so vague about where this new spending would go: They listed categories that would be receiving funding, but didn’t give amounts or percentages. I didn’t expect the college to lay out a full expense report for me, but financial transparency did not seem like too much to ask for.  

Many protesters called for Emerson to be more financially accessible for students of color and students from lower socioeconomic classes. Many students are working hard to afford the current tuition of $44,032 a year. This most recent tuition increase to $46,016 will go toward new spending for the school, but it is not easy to figure out where that money goes.

Rising tuition is commonplace for schools across the country, but these increases are usually in increments of one to two percent, not four percent—as Emerson once again exceeded the national average for the seventh time since the 2010-2011 academic year. The average inflation rate going into 2018 in the United States is hovering around two percent, making Emerson’s increase almost double the national average.

With jumps this large in tuition occurring so frequently, and considering that the majority of Emerson’s spending is funded by tuition, students have a right to know where their money is going. Emerson’s IRS 990 form is available online with a bit of searching, but many students are not even aware the document is available (not to mention that it took me half an hour of scrolling through dense legal documents to understand where my money was going).

“I have no idea where any of my money is really going to,” sophomore Casey Marazita said.

The truth of the matter is there is no simple way to find out what exactly students’ tuition goes toward. While the school is required to publish tax forms outlining how much revenue it generates and the details of their expenses, the form isn’t openly publicized or discussed with students.

Many students that I spoke to are upset at this tuition increase given protesters in the fall wanted to make Emerson more financially accessible for minority students, and the email did not explain how much of the new funds will go toward scholarships for minority students. On the IRS form available online there isn’t exactly a spending category labeled “diversifying student population.”  

Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform, in its demands to the school back in the fall, asked for more financial accommodations for students of color and minority students. While the school may use this tuition hike to help fund more scholarships, the higher cost could turn away students before they even apply. If Emerson were to publish a report declaring where their funds are going, this could assuage the concerns of students who feel disregarded.

Chris Henderson-West, class of 2020 president, said that the tuition increase was inevitable, as colleges across the nation are constantly raising their tuition to keep up with the economy and interest rates. He felt that too many students expressed distress at the new tuition costs without involving themselves with the administration or looking to get involved.

“If students took more of an active role in the school in terms of working with the administration and asking them questions, there wouldn’t be so much anger or confusion,” Henderson-West said.

For students who are not involved in SGA or working closely with administration, how and where the school is spending their tuition are not common knowledge .

“I think they need to have a more open dialogue with us,” sophomore Kayla LaRosa said. “Because we’re the ones paying to go here.”

Transparency and cooperation are a two-way street. Yes, it is the responsibility of students to communicate with the administration and get involved with the school—but that burden cannot be placed entirely on the shoulders of the students. This might entail the college providing and publicizing the report breaking down where their spending went this year. It is well within Emerson’s power as a progressive institution of learning to send out at least an annual email report to the student body so we know where our money is going.

The channels of communication regarding how our money is spent need to be open and transparent, and the responsibility to maintain that communication lies with all members of the Emerson community.

“Emerson makes themselves out to be a progressive school holistically,”  junior David Snyder said. “Not just in the courses it teaches, and the teachers it hires, and the student body it tries to cultivate, but also in the way it goes about business.”

If Emerson truly wants to be progressive economically as well as in other aspects, they need to be better at informing the student body of their financial situation and plans—without students going out of their way to learn the spending habits of their school.

 

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