Tuition, fees increase again for next academic year

James Glaser, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts, poses for a portrait outside of Sophia Gordon Hall on March 27. (Kyle Lui / The Tufts Daily)

Undergraduate students will have to pay $2,723 more to attend Tufts University next year, seeing a 3.8% increase in tuition and fees over the 2019–2020 academic year. The increase, announced in an email sent out to the community on Tuesday, raises the projected cost of attending the university from $70,941 to $73,664, a nearly $10,000 jump from the 2015–2016 academic year’s $63,698.

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser and Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu wrote in the email that the increase needed to “advanc[e] the University’s reputation for excellence in teaching, learning, and research.” They added that “the university has taken many successful steps to control costs and raise new revenue” to minimize the increase, saying that some costs, like inflation and healthcare, are inevitable.

In an email to the Daily, Glaser said that the tuition increases were tied to increases in operating costs, citing new academic buildings, facility renovation and union contracts and the provisions.”

“The schools have made substantial investments in our infrastructure … and these costs are now part of our budgets and have to be met. Philanthropy, endowment income, and non-tuition revenues are part of our budgets, but most of our revenue comes from tuition,” Glaser said. “Naturally, some are unhappy with the increase, but students and their families are often also urging the university to do more.”

Since the announcement, many students have voiced their frustrations over the increase, and one of these students, Elizabeth Dossett, a Tufts Student Action (TSA) member, said that the increase cannot be justified.

“This is a trend that needs to stop,” Dossett, a senior, said. “The growing trend of higher education getting more and more expensive every year is a product of money being pooled in admins’ salaries and in endowments, rather than actually going toward students needs, staff needs, financial aid.”

Another TSA member, Karen Ruiz, echoed Dossett’s sentiment, noting that tuition increases have become a fact of life at Tufts.

“First-years will be paying almost [$]80,000 by the [2021–2022 academic year],” Ruiz, a first-year, said. “And that’s not to mention how [much first-years] four years ago have had to pay.”

The increase should not have a significant impact on the number of students that Tufts can support with financial aid packages, according to Glaser, who noted that the university has a “full-need aid” policy. 

“We meet the full demonstrated need of all our undergraduate students,” Glaser said. “Last year, we even adjusted the formula in a way that increased aid packages across the board because of recognition of increased book/materials costs. Our full need policy also means that if a student’s family has a change in circumstances, their aid is adjusted accordingly.”

Dossett, however, said that the university could do more to meet students’ financial need, saying that she knows from students’ experiences. She called for more transparency from the administration.

“[Administrators] could definitely be more transparent about [their] salaries, about their involvement with loan companies, they could be more transparent about what it means to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need,” Dossett said. “Low income students at Tufts are going hungry, because there was a need for the Swipe It Forward program to be created.”

Dossett also pointed to the fact that many students are taking on student loans.

“[Students] are working huge amounts of hours on top of school work to pay the amount that Tufts says that they can pay,” Dossett added. “And of course they’re taking on thousands of dollars in loans in well. Financial aid is absolutely not covering 100% of demonstrated need.”

Students also raised their concerns on Tuesday at a University Budget & Fundraising Town Hall hosted by the Tufts Community Union Senate and organized by the university to share more information on the university budget. University Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Tom McGurty and Executive Director of University Advancement Margot Biggin were among the administrators invited, along with Glaser and Qu.

The topics discussed included housing costs, increases in tuition, financial aid, philanthropy and Tufts identity as an institution.

In response to questions about high dining and housing costs, Glaser explained the similarity that Tufts holds with its peer institutions.

“From the perspective of housing and dining we are no different than our peer schools. I think you’ll find that in fact many of them are operating at a loss. Our housing is less expensive than our peers and our tuition is higher than our peers. Together, that makes up total student charges,” Glaser said.

Qu added that Tufts’ combination of liberal arts and research is another culprit to raise tuition prices.

“Tufts happens to be somewhere in the middle. We consider ourselves to be one of the smaller schools … but we also offer a research-intensive environment for our undergrads,” Qu said. “We don’t have a large number of undergrads to support that research infrastructure, so if you look at it that way, it is not too surprising that our finances make it very difficult to offer the best of both.”

Event attendees also brought up questions about financial aid, specifically

Event attendees also brought up questions about financial aid, specifically Tufts’ prioritization of meeting all demonstrated need over need-blind admissions. Glaser clarified the decision.

“In the hierarchy of virtue, being full-need is actually the more important aspiration. When you are full-need, we are committed to that need. If that need changes, we are compelled to change your aid package,” Glaser said.

The last part of the conversation was focused primarily on donations and philanthropy to Tufts. Several students were concerned with how Tufts interacts with donors, and how the money is utilized to improve Tufts.

When asked about Tufts’ endowment relative to peer institutions, Biggin explained why Tufts has fallen behind other universities.

“We have been seriously fundraising the past 25 years, many of these schools have been doing it for decades. Making up for that lost time is a very tough thing to do,” she said.

Qu added that Tufts often has to work closely with donors with the placement of donations into certain programs, as the university does not have full control over what the donations support. However, Biggin said that there is a bright side to this selective philanthropy when donors are aligned to the needs of the institution, like financial aid and faculty support. Biggin referenced the need for donations for building projects like the Science and Engineering Complex, the new Cummings building and 574 Boston Ave. 

The conversation closed with discussion of the balance between supporting the aspirations of a research-based institution with that of a liberal arts school. The deans emphasized their willingness to take on that challenge.

“Being a research university does enhance the reputation of the institution … It gives opportunities to students that you wouldn’t necessarily get at a small liberal arts college,” Glaser said. “Do we challenge ourselves more by having research aspirations? We absolutely do … But it costs a lot more money to hire a chemist than it does to hire a philosopher.”


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