In a recent email to the student body, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser and Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu attempted to justify a mystifying tuition increase of 3.8% for the upcoming academic year. Beyond exceeding this year’s consumer price index increase by a factor of two, the deans revealed that capital investments formed a major part of this year’s increase. Significant costs to students arise from “upgrading and adding more on-campus undergraduate housing, and renovating and constructing new academic space,” some of which have “been made possible by major gifts,” but are mostly funded by the “University’s operating and capital budgets.” To put it bluntly, students today should be paying for their education, not for capital projects which will only benefit future students.
While many universities both public and private freeze or lower tuition, perhaps out of a sense of justice or a rational mission of building financial goodwill with students and alumni, Tufts continues to raise costs. In prioritizing capital investments at a cost to current students, Tufts is not only putting undue pressure on families that seek to educate their children but also irreparably damaging its relationship with future alumni who will likely have less incentive to give.
There are other troubling aspects of the deans’ email as well. I’ve discussed in previous articles Tufts’ seeming inability to manage finances for housing and dining, but it never ceases to strike me as remarkable that housing at Tufts costs more than the going market rate in Medford and Somerville, already well known for extraordinarily high rents. Tufts charges just over $1,000 per month for a simple dorm bedroom while a room in a house with a kitchen, bathroom, laundry and not to mention privacy will likely cost between $750 and $950 per month on the open market. By continuing to price gouge students for scarce rooms, Tufts gives students the all-too-valid impression it’s not giving students a fair shake.
I believe there is a solution to this mess. While it will take Tufts some years to resolve the crisis that poor management has created, building a healthy relationship with current students by freezing tuition for incoming classes, lowering tuition when possible and not overcharging for life essentials will go a long way in creating a community of alumni who are not only in a better financial position to give back but are also more willing to do so. If students can feel confident their money won’t be squandered, they will be more comfortable supporting Tufts in the future. I believe it is as simple as that; put in place a policy of actively constructing good will.
It’s possible to pay professors and workers more, reduce tuition and fees, create a stronger community and reduce the tensions between administrators and the student body all at once. In fact, by focusing on the first two, the latter will follow. University President Anthony Monaco, deans: I promise students won’t have nearly as many axes to grind if you’d simply repeal and replace this ridiculous tuition hike.