Editorial: Tufts must do more to combat elitism as tuition exceeds 70K

The elephant head statue that adorns the entrance to Dowling Hall, home of Tufts' administrative services, is pictured on Aug. 20, 2014. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archive)

The full cost of a Tufts education has finally exceeded $70,000 per year. This incredibly high tuition price is more than just intimidating — it undermines the culture of diversity and accessibility that Tufts strives to promote. Campus movements like #HaltTheHike have highlighted the difficulties associated with this expense, especially when it comes coupled with a general lack of administrative transparency as to how these increases will improve the school.

Rising prices may be understandable given the trend in the market for higher education right now, but Tufts should not continue to raise tuition to record levels without thoroughly evaluating the impact of doing so, and without consulting with the community about whether this money is well-used.

While James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, told the Daily that the financial aid budget at Tufts has risen at a faster rate than the cost of attendance, tuition remains unaffordable for a vast number of students.

Middle-income students, whose families make enough to not qualify for financial aid but still cannot necessarily afford an education that costs a quarter of a million dollars over four years, find themselves in an especially difficult position. Meanwhile, low-income students, who qualify for financial aid, still struggle with all the expenses associated with attendance, and may “undermatch” during application season, meaning they are discouraged from applying to expensive private schools like Tufts in the first place. Undermatching can be the result of a wide variety of sources, from location to admissions recruiting practices on the part of universities.

These issues are, in many ways, prevalent across the spectrum of private schools, but Tufts could be doing much more to combat them, especially in comparison to the actions its peers are taking. For example, George Washington University has an endowment comparable to that of Tufts (both are $1.5–1.6 billion) and, like Tufts, its admissions process takes applicants’ financial need into consideration. However, it has over 60 percent of its students on financial aid compared to Tufts’ less than 50 percent.

In truth, though, Tufts’ tuition costs stack very similarly to that of plenty of other small, private New England colleges. But schools like Amherst College, Boston College and Bowdoin College, to name a few, are not as financially exclusive as Tufts because of their need-blind policies, meaning they do not take financial aid into account when admitting students to their school.

While reaching a fully need-blind status is a difficult feat with a limited endowment, colleges very similar to Tufts have proven it to be possible. So our university has to make a choice: where do we want to spend our money? On financial aid and slowing tuition hikes, or on new facilities for niche portions of the slimming population who can afford to come here?

Although the ideal situation would be to make Tufts both more affordable and more desirable, the Tufts administration has seemingly chosen the latter at the expense of the former. This year, the university has taken on projects such as replacing the Ellis Oval turf and renovating the basketball court at the Tufts Administration Building (TAB) in Davis Square.  The university’s expansion has seemingly been prioritized similarly to, if not over, increasing financial aid resources and slowing hikes in tuition. Perhaps not coincidentally, Tufts has the lowest rate of students on financial aid in the NESCAC.

We all want the university to better its existing facilities and to create new ones. However, it is unnecessary and unhelpful for the university to do this in a manner that simultaneously prevents students from less-advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds from being able to reap its benefits. There is a tradeoff for every dollar we spend, especially when those dollars come from raising tuition. Tufts should prioritize a need-blind admissions system and the steadying of tuition so that we don’t further narrow the pool of students who can afford to come to our university, limiting the range of perspectives and experiences present in our student body.