Tuition increase forces students to reevaluate finances and plans moving forward
MANAGING NEWS EDITOR
When Nick Hughes, a freshman chemical engineering major, spent last summer working full-time, hauling dirt for hours and often doing overtime, he did not anticipate doing so the next summer. After his freshman year, he wanted to focus on his personal interests more, maybe spending more time with his grandpa, or working a summer research job.
An unexpected email from Babatunde Ogunnaike, the dean of the College of Engineering, made Hughes reconsider those plans.
The email, which was sent to engineering students on the evening of Feb. 5, announced tuition hikes for current and incoming students, beginning at an extra $1,000 next year, and, for freshmen like Hughes, reaching $4,000 by their senior year. Similar increases will be taking place in the School of Nursing and the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.
Current students will receive a $500 credit to mitigate the expense, but to Hughes, the credit does little to negate the burden.
“I feel like it’s really not enough,” Hughes said. “In the scope of things, $500 dollars off of $4,000 isn’t enough to make a difference.”
President Dennis Assanis announced the new policy, which will take effect next year, at the Feb. 5 Faculty Senate meeting, citing the increased need for resources in these departments to remain competitive, as well as the projected job growth for graduates in relevant fields. The move follows the lead of several other comparator institutions, which have implemented similar policies.
“We hope that everyone will understand that this is an investment in their future,” Assanis said at the meeting. “Every place that has invested in this way has actually seen the elevation of academic programs, elevation in the rankings and overall enhancement of academic programs. This is a very small investment that the students will make that will enhance the value of their degree.”
Assanis also emphasized that the money accrued from the tuition increases will stay within the students’ respective colleges.
The university did not conduct any preliminary surveys to gauge student opinions, and did not collect any formal student feedback.
While Hughes doesn’t feel that the increases are unfair in principle, acknowledging that his degree costs much more to fund than, say, an English degree, he does not feel it was fair to impose the costs on current students, who have already planned their college finances around a relatively stable set of figures that accounts only for incremental standard tuition increases.
“It’s a lot to go up so quickly,” Hughes said. “It’s not like I didn’t expect it [tuition] to go up at all. It’s expected, but the amount was unexpected.”
Like Hughes, Alexia Stock, who is an environmental engineering major and out-of-state student from Iowa, expected gradual tuition increases, exceeding no more than $1,000 per year. Stock said that knowledge of such a dramatic increase would have influenced her decision to attend the university, possibly deterring her away or prompting her to look at other, more affordable options.
“If I was an incoming freshman right now, I probably wouldn’t apply or stay in the program,” Stock said. “I think $500 credit is nice, but I still think it’s kind of rude. I feel like this is something you put on incoming freshman, who know that this is part of the program fee, and that this is what they’re signing up for for the next four years. That was never in my plans.”
Stock felt that the email announcing the hikes shrouded the truth of the matter, masking the financial implications in hopeful language and promises of “investing in your education.” While she originally ignored the email, discarding it as another generic department advertisement, she was soon informed of the email’s actual content, immediately turning to her bank account.
Stock said that she doesn’t expect to reap the tuition hike’s benefits during her time here, noting what she considers lagging progress on the Science, Technology, and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus and other projects. Like Hughes, Stock doesn’t consider the increase to be inherently unfair—the labs, materials and equipment her degree requires far exceeds that of other disciplines. But she does feel like the plan, in its current form, leaves current students shorthanded.
Stock also believes that the new policy will impose a new “weed out” requirement on incoming students, but not in the traditional format of rigorous math and science courses. Instead, students who can front the cash will be the qualified engineers.
As part of the Delaware First campaign and other new revenue sources, the university hopes to increase scholarship allotments and eliminate financial obstacles.
Natalie Criscenzo, the Student Government Association (SGA) president, and Kevin Peterson, SGA’s executive vice president, sat down with The Review to discuss the hikes, which they were previously unaware of. Peterson, who is a voting member in the university’s Faculty Senate, recalled his initial reactions to the announcement last Monday.
“I definitely had a concern when it [tuition increase] was first announced that it might prevent minority and low-income students, who are currently underrepresented at this school, from pursuing STEM and business degrees.”
Peterson, who is double-majoring in chemical engineering and economics, also raised an immediate question at the Faculty Senate meeting about students such as himself, enrolled in two of the affected colleges, incurring a double charge. The increased rates, however, will only affect students with respect to their primary college of enrollment. In cases such as Peterson’s, it is unclear how this primary college will be determined.
Criscenzo also mentioned the possibility of students originally declaring nursing, business or engineering majors as freshmen and paying the extra rate, only to switch majors as other interests or situations arise, which “absolutely shouldn’t be happening.”
“This seems like something that’s in its initial phases, so I’m hoping that they put out some announcements about future changes, or more details and questions, because I think as it stands there are a lot of ways that students could be unfortunately affected by this,” Criscenzo said.
Criscenzo and Peterson stressed that they are willing to advocate on behalf of the student body, should they receive enough feedback. SGA members are invited to sit-in on Board of Trustees committees, and Criscenzo said that, in the past, the Board has been very receptive to their suggestions.
“If there’s a lot of pushback from students about this, and we bring that up and say ‘I think you need to rethink the way you’re going about this,” I wouldn’t be surprised if they did decide to reconsider,” Criscenzo said.