Students in the dark on tuition hike specifics

by Bret Hauff / Beacon Staff • April 6, 2017

Emerson’s Board of Trustees has approved another tuition increase for the next academic year. If you didn’t know this already, it’s no fault of your own. The college never directly notified students.

“Typically something like this we would send to students and parents at their home addresses,” said Carole McFall, spokesperson for the college, about the letter mailed last month about the tuition increase. “[Sending letters home has] been a process for a long, long time.”

Full-time undergraduates in 2017–2018 will be charged $41,824 for tuition and $16,992 for a double room and board. That’s a $1,792—or 4.5 percent—increase for tuition, and a $690—or 4 percent—increase for room and board.

First semester senior Rafael Barraza said he’s heard about the increase, but not in an official capacity.

“A lot of students are the ones taking on the loans, a lot of students are the ones who are paying for themselves,” the writing, literature and publishing major said. “It's a conversation that students should be able to enter with the necessary information.”

The letter attributes the tuition increase to new full-time professor hires, expanded curricula, more study abroad opportunities, and an increase in the colleges financial aid budget. The college has launched, or will offer, several new majors—including a BA in the Business of Creative Enterprises, a BFA in Comedic Arts, and a BA in Sports Communication—and minors with this revenue.

The additional revenue is also being used to fund the college’s student housing construction and renovation projects. Once finished, the 2 Boylston Place dorm (on schedule to open next semester) and the renovated Little Building (a two-year project starting fall 2017) will allow the college to house students on-campus until their junior year, McFall said. Emerson currently guarantees on-campus housing for freshman and sophomores.

“Both of those new facilities will have social spaces for students as well that will be transformative for students in the Emerson experience,” McFall said.

A new dining hall, timed to open with 2 Boylston Place, is also under construction on the corner of Boylston Place and Boylston Street.

This recent tuition hike is in line with average tuition increases at Emerson in the last decade, but the Board of Trustees has been increasing tuition for undergraduates at more than 2 percent above the national average for annual tuition increase at private 4-year institutions, according to course catalogs and College Board data.

If the college followed national trends since 2006–2007, tuition next year would be $32,772, almost $10,000 less than what the Board of Trustees has approved for the 2017–2018 academic year, according to Beacon analysis.

“You’ve got to consider our place in the city, certainly the area we’re in is an expensive area of the city, in the center of the Theater District,” McFall said. “It's critical to continue growth of the college, hiring the best faculty, being able to increase housing, social spaces, and making sure that we're keeping Emerson strong.”

Emerson is also about 94 percent tuition dependent, meaning that the college relies on tuition (rather than fundraising, philanthropy, or its endowment) for funding, according to the most recent tax forms available—something McFall attributed to the college's need to increase tuition.

“A lot of the students I talk to have a lot to say about why they’re unhappy here, so just to know that it has increased that much is just is sad to me,” said sophomore visual and media arts major Shannon Mullins.

Students often complain about food or housing, Mullins said. Others criticize how the college funds certain programs or how administrators handle different issues, Barraza said.

Beyond what the college is doing with its revenue, the increase impacts how Sam Longo plans for her future. The sophomore visual and media arts major receives the maximum amount of financial aid available and works four days a week to pay for what’s left.

Longo said that if the increase in tuition has to come out of her pocket, she’ll be forced to get another job to pay for it. If she has to do this, she wouldn’t be able to take as many classes, extending her time here and forcing her to pay more in the long term.

Barraza said he thinks most students find the tuition increase “ridiculous to a certain extent.”

“I think a lot of student here complain about the costs because they are high, but still want the services,” Barraza said. “A lot of people, including me, think that for the money we are paying, the services may not be as great as they could be.”