In the wake of the recent piece published in the Beacon about forming a student union, the SGA felt it was time to make use of the Executive Blog for the first time. We hope this space will be a place to clarify and inform the student body of our position on a number of issues pertaining to the Emerson community.
We’re completely in support of any students uniting behind a common goal of betterment and change. Rising higher education costs create a financial bubble that affects our entire community and nation in a way that needs real, actionable change. Students face a choice between the financial risks of a exorbitantly priced college education and the inability to get a job without a college education.
The cost of attendance at Emerson is approaching $60,000, making it harder and harder for students to attend year after year. We fully acknowledge that this directly affects many multicultural students: a rising net cost for the individual student means the College will become more socioeconomically and racially homogenous than it already is. With each student that gives up and says, “I can’t afford to return here; it’s not worth it,” Emerson loses another voice. As a result, our grasp on diversity and inclusion becomes even more tenuous. A two-year tuition freeze, on the surface, looks like a viable solution.
However, it may not be the most sustainable long-term decision.
Here’s what we know:
Over 92% of Emerson’s revenue comes from “program services” such as tuition and room and board. Compare to Rhode Island School of Design, a college similar to Emerson in size and demographic, which hasn’t risen above 90% in that category in the last three years.
Schools that put a tuition freeze in place often see substantial tuition spikes once the freeze is lifted in order to allow institutions to make up for lost revenue.
Schools that put a tuition freeze in place are forced to find alternative sources of revenue.
Much of the discussion surrounding tuition freezes has taken place at public institutions, where the revenue lost in the wake of a tuition freeze can be counteracted by bolstering public funding (i.e. increased taxes).
UMass: “The continued freeze was made possible by the [...] approved spending plans that include about $519 million in state funding for the UMass system, or roughly half the university’s projected budget” →
As a private institution, public funding to make up for lost revenue is simply not available to us.
In the College’s strategic plan to expand the footprint of the College, it has taken on more debt in order to finance endeavors such as Emerson LA, the Boylston Place residence hall, and the Little Building renovations, as well as maintaining the College’s non-residential properties, like the Colonial Theater.
Expanding the number of beds, not just at Emerson but across all urban campuses, is a directive that has come direct from the City of Boston.
The overall research suggests that a tuition freeze only provides short-term relief to current students, rather than the institution as a whole, for a long-term problem. If Emerson follows the trends established above, future students will bear the burdens of a freeze-induced deficit.
Here’s what we’re pretty sure of:
Asking alumni to withhold donations may exacerbate the situation—losing one source of revenue (however small that source may be in comparison to the “program services” revenue) means the College would have to seek additional revenue elsewhere.
A tuition freeze means lost revenue—if donations continue trending the way they are or go down, the college will be left with few options to generate revenue in order to pay for services students, staff, and faculty need.
Most of the money that funds the financial aid programs comes from tuition; freezing tuition likely means freezing or hampering the growth of financial aid packages, directly affecting the students who originally needed the tuition freeze.
Here’s what we don’t know:
If we instituted a freeze, we don’t know how, specifically, the College would make up for the loss in revenue.
It’s unsure what would happen when the proposed freeze is ultimately lifted.
It’s unclear how long it will take for the college to make back the money it has spent and will continue to spend on expenditures related to the expansion of on-campus housing.
Here’s where we stand:
This is not a call for the SGA to function as a student union. It’s too much power in the hands of one organization and would spread us too thin, making us ineffective as a whole. That’s exactly why we would welcome an “unsanctioned, non-hierarchal” student union. To have a group of engaged and resourceful students advocating for the institution as a whole, to push for financial responsibility and accountability—this can only push the College forward. Those are all principles the SGA will support wholeheartedly; those are the values that will encourage alumni to donate, knowing that the college will put those dollars to good use. We encourage and look forward to the conversations we can have with such a body of students.
Our goal, now, is to start getting and subsequently disseminating information so we can form educated answers to address what we don’t know. The sticker price of tuition, ultimately, is less important than the cost of attendance following the disbursement of financial aid. It’s about affordability.
We will be asking Maureen Murphy, VP of Administration and Finance, as well as Ruthanne Madsen, VP of Enrollment Management, to attend an upcoming Joint Session meeting to open dialogues regarding the issues discussed here and in the original piece published in the Berkeley Beacon. The information discussed will be available to students via our minutes posted here and the Beacon’s coverage.
Overall, it’s clear that the College still has strides to make in terms of communicating certain information to students in order to make the college’s ongoing financial situation clear to all. At an institution that values innovation in communication, this seems to be a paradox that grows more glaring by the day.
The SGA is fully supportive of students that wish to come together around a common goal, including a student union with the intention to hold the College to a higher standard of financial accountability and transparency. There’s a great deal of work to be done in that regard. The SGA is ready to engage with any student union that may form, and to help in whatever way we can.
As these conversations evolve and develop, we encourage those that want to get involved to voice their concerns at Joint Session, which meets every Tuesday from 2:00-3:45 in the Multipurpose Room or by contacting us with questions and concerns through our website’s contact form or representatives.
This piece was approved for publishing by the voting members of Joint Session.