Tuition troubles ahead for students

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April 25, 2011

10:57 PM

The College of William and Mary’s 2011-2012 budget, which was passed by the Board of Visitors last Friday, looks like what you might expect from an administration that is trying to tighten its belt while also attempting to maintain the prestigious status of the College. The budget calls for a 5.5 percent increase in total fees for in-state students and a 5.7 percent hike for out-of-state students and represents an attempt to hold on to a certain amount of revenue from the state, which is mired in an economic crisis of its own.
But for all of the merits and debatable points of the College’s budget, the upshot for many students is both simple and frightening: school is going to cost more next year.

The College’s main mission is to offer a high-quality education and college experience at a comparatively low price, and every step the administration takes works toward that goal. But while the services offered are mainly one-size-fits-all, the ability to pay for them isn’t. The College’s student profile runs the gamut from those who couldn’t imagine not being able to afford college to those who are running on fumes already. The accountants who came up with the proposal aren’t heartless misanthropes who couldn’t care less about students’ welfare: They know that tuition means something to everyone who pays it. We all know the College has to submit a working budget every year, and that there is such a thing as fiscal reality.

I suspect the working assumption of this administration is that its proposal will be inconvenient for some students and a struggle for others. They’ll say that 5.5 percent is a careful and necessary increase when they easily could have offered a gargantuan one, and honestly, they’re right. But it’s easy to look at the College’s budget proposal and see nothing but numbers. Through no fault of our own, we’re not hard-wired to see the numbers for what they represent: stories. Stories of students whose parents just can’t do any more, stories of students whose income — the product of multiple jobs — still isn’t enough, stories of students who decide they finally need to save their money, even when the school they can afford to attend isn’t the same quality as the College. They’re the stories of students who are as academically qualified as any of us and are held up by the need to make their finances work.

Depending on your financial situation, 5.5 percent may not mean much to you. For some, it’s 5.5 percent they can’t pay, no matter how much financial aid and scholarship money they receive — and don’t forget the
College leaves out-of-state students out in the cold on that one.

Knowing that the College needs to face the fiscal facts, and presuming that we would rather not see any cuts in the quality of services this campus offers, how many of those financially troubled students are we prepared to show to the door? Obviously, some of them; we’re not hopeless idealists. We realize that running the College costs a lot of money. However, tuition hikes alienate students who do not have large amounts of money.

The way to strike that delicate balance will be the definition of our budget, and how we operate is the basis for what our community signifies. Like any selective institution, our community is both about whom we allow to go here and about whom we don’t. Shifting around numbers means nothing until we act on them, but once we do, they end up saying a lot about who we are and what we represent. There’s no way we can avoid trimming the budget, but we also can’t deny that students are the lifeblood of this campus. I hope the administration will remember that and will cut carefully.

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