This is an excerpt from the first of its kind SGA Financial Accountability Initiative. The full document can be found at emersonsga.org/financeinitiative. Please take a moment to review the document and endorse to show your support!
"There is little reason to be proud of any high ranking program offered by the College when that program is walled off from those who do not have the means to pay its hefty price."
To the Emerson College Administration:
Every year since 2014 the New York Times releases their “College Accessibility Index.” The index is compiled by the Upshot, a section of the Times that provides “analysis about politics, policy and everyday life.” The College Accessibility Index ranks colleges with a five-year graduation rate of 75% or higher based on the affordability for students from middle and lower income backgrounds. Colleges are scored on a one-point scale where the average score is one. Colleges that perform better than average receive a higher score.
In 2015 Emerson was ranked at 174 out of 179 with a score of 0.50. In 2017 Emerson was ranked 170 out of 171 with a score of 0.35, ranking only better than the University of Puget Sound. Both years Emerson placed beneath NYU, a college which Emerson regularly advertises as a costlier alternative to an Emerson education.
A May 2017 article in Boston Magazine pointed out that “Emerson College was ranked the least economically diverse college, private or public, of the Greater Boston schools included in the Times‘ list, and third-least of the 171 colleges nationwide.” The index has since been updated placing Emerson second to last on the list.
Anyone who works with higher education finance knows how complex of a balancing act the administration and allocation of resources can be. However, the Times’ lists make it clear that Emerson still has strides to make with regards to accessibility. The issues presented by this ranking can be organized into three categories.
Diversity and Accessibility:
Emerson has placed an emphasis on the future, focusing on expansion and improvement. This focus has led to a decreased acceptance rate from 49% in 2015 to roughly 35% in 2018. However, while acceptance rates decreased, the proportion of white students either increased or stayed consistent. In 2010 60.3% of the undergraduate population was white (not accounting for 11.7% not reported). The incoming Fall 2017 class is 67% white. This lack of progress over the last 7 years perpetuates structural inequality, both economic and otherwise.
This homogeneity counteracts our mission “to advance scholarship and creative work that brings innovation, depth, and diversity to these disciplines.” Emerson has taken upon itself the task of promoting “innovation, depth, and diversity,” but data shows it consistently fails to achieve the mission of diversity.
Many students find themselves confused and frustrated upon receiving news about changes made on the institutional level. Whether it is re-branding, the re-design of the Little Building, or a tuition increase, students feel left out of the conversation. At its root, this comes down to an issue of communication. Students who are not directly involved in conversations at the institutional level feel disconnected and unheard when important financial decisions are made. When students are not provided with the necessary information, they are not afforded the opportunity to participate in important conversations or have their voices heard—either as individuals or as a collective group. Issues of accessibility also arise when historically marginalized and oppressed communities, in particular, are not given the opportunity to provide input.
In recent years, Emerson has created a number of new programs including a first of its kind Comedic Arts major, a Business of Creative Enterprises program, an expanded Los Angeles program, and the introduction of more study abroad opportunities. These programs have provided incredible new opportunities for students. However, many students have still found a lack of resources and financial support to be an issue. Students find themselves struggling to pay for textbooks, hard-drives, printing costs and other academically necessary costs while simultaneously battling with financial aid for the support they need to continue attending the college.
The Student Success Office created the Student Assistance Fund to support many of these additional costs. However, this fund is not regularly advertised to students and cannot provide support for study abroad and external programs.
As Lee Pelton said in an email to students on April 11th, 2018, “at Emerson, it’s up to us to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” The improvements made to the colleges budget over the last few years serve the mission of the College “to advance scholarship and creative work that brings innovation, [and] depth” but fall short of promoting diversity and making the College an accessible institution. Kirstin Valdez Quade, in her essay Youth From Every Quarter, argues that “it’s a worthy, essential claim to seek “youth from every quarter.” Institutions and individuals have a responsibility to work against centuries of structural inequality.”
Emerson has the responsibility to act upon the principles it claims to uphold by actively and consistently striving for diversity of economic, social, cultural, and racial backgrounds. Continuing on our current path will further alienate the few students of diverse backgrounds who currently attend and leave many recent alumni feeling that requests from the College for institutional support after graduation are at best tone-deaf and at worst disrespectful. Our current status on the accessibility index should overshadow any other ranking we may hold.
There is little reason to be proud of any high ranking program offered by the College when that program is walled off from those who do not have the means to pay its hefty price.
The Emerson SGA offers our support and input on this work moving forward. We thank you for taking the time to review this document and hope that this will lead to necessary change. We look forward to a continued productive relationship.
SGA Executive Treasurer