Rising tuition costs put burden on students, financial aid office

The steady increases in Tufts’ hefty price tag each year causes many students to turn to the Office of Financial Aid for help. With tuition and associated fees currently estimated at $34,000 a year and rising at a rate of about four percent a year, Financial Aid is forced to continually hunt for funds to meet the needs of students. But Tufts’ guarantee that it will meet all demonstrated financial need coupled with the small size of the endowment makes funding students’ education an arduous task.

Although Tufts is a private institution, it receives a large portion of its financial aid from the federal government. The Department of Education budgets a certain amount of money each year that Tufts administers according to the government’s guidelines. As a result of this, the Federal government can attach strings to the money and force the University to conform to some of the its standards.

Last year, Tufts doled out nearly $39 million dollars in undergraduate financial aid through Federal grants, outside scholarships, and University funds. Of the $39 million, $24.1 million were grants and scholarships that came directly from Tufts, $10.7 million came from Federal, state, and local governmental agencies, and the balance was made up by funds from private sources, according to Director of Financial Aid Bill Eastwood.

Many of the governmental and private funds on which Tufts relies do not keep pace with inflation and the rising cost of tuition, which means that Tufts must increase its financial aid budget even more to compensate.

Work study is another form of aid that is administered through the University. Many on-campus jobs are reserved only for work-study students because the federal government pays for 75 percent of a student’s wages under this program. Of the nearly $1 million a year in wages that is paid out each year to Tufts work study students, less than one-third of it actually comes from the University budget.

“The idea behind work study is that students can work a small number of hours a week, while making enough money to cover their day to day expenses,” Eastwood said.

Through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students’ eligibility for work study, as well as other governmental grants, and loans is determined.

Tufts’ aid is almost entirely need-based, which makes it different from many other schools that try to attract high-caliber students with large merit-based aid packages. The University meets the entire demonstrated need of students, as determined by the calculations of the Financial Aid office. Although the admissions process admittedly is not 100 percent need blind, Eastwood characterized the policies as “very, very close to being completely need blind.”

The same formula is used each year to determine the need of all students. This sets Tufts apart from some schools that offer large amounts of financial aid to incoming freshmen while knowing full well that the amount of aid will drop sharply as time goes on. This year, 39 percent of freshmen who enrolled at Tufts were given a financial aid package

The Office of Financial Aid is often criticized when students’ financial aid packages are reevaluated, as there is a prevailing perception that aid goes down from year to year. Sophomore Sharon Milewits had her package cut because of a change in her family’s financial circumstances.

“Last year I was pretty satisfied with my aid, but I also had a sister in college. This year my aid went way down, because my sister graduated. I’m worried that it might go down even farther next year,” sophomore Sharon Milewits said.

However, Eastwood said that decreases in financial aid are not the norm. “In the vast majority of cases, the aid package goes up every year,” he said. The rising costs of living and attending Tufts drive tuition up every year, and financial aid rises proportionally with these increases.

Improving Tufts’ financial aid situation is the number one priority of the University, according to, Budget and University Priorities Committee co-chair Masoud Sanayel. The committee’s job is to work with the administration to determine how to best apportion Tufts’ budget. It faces the nearly impossible task of deciding how to adequately fund the university’s top three priorities: financial aid, campus maintenance and construction, and faculty compensation. While funds for these expenditures traditionally come in large part from a school’s endowment, Tufts’ meager resources force the committee to use a portion of the Arts and Sciences budget to cover the expenses.

“We struggle to strike a balance between the need for quality students with diverse backgrounds, the need for a functional campus, and a top notch faculty. Even with the low endowment, we are still doing well with careful planning,” Sanayel said.