Butler’s increased tuition creates stress, grief and anger

Illustration by Gordon Johnson.

NATE LEMEN | OPINION COLUMNIST | nlemen@butler.edu

Last week, Butler students started their day with an email in their inbox that streamlined panic as they processed the information. Within this nine-paragraph letter resided confirmation of the worst fears of every parent and student, information that seems to signal the end of times each time we are reminded of it.

This email, as any Butler student could easily guess, was the one we received on Jan. 10. It informed us that tuition had been raised by 3.25 percent, and room and board had been raised by 3 percent for the 2018-2019 school year.

Reading this email, I am fairly certain I went through the five stages of grief in rapid succession, finding myself unable to do anything but sit and stare at the note as I shifted from denial, to anger, to bargaining, to a weird but very real sadness, and finally, a rugged acceptance. Of course, I was processing all of this as I avoided looking at the all-caps texts I received in the group chat I share with my parents within five minutes of the initial email going out.

On top of that (because simply raising tuition is too mild for our rigorous collegiate setting, I suppose), there have been a number of cases in which the scholarships students received are not adjusted to match the rise in tuition, rendering them with a higher bill than they initially had.

Madi Blair is a first-year student studying English and French, and she is particularly worried about the idea that she may end up paying more if her scholarships are not equally adjusted with the tuition raise, even though she will not know for sure until next year what will happen.

“It seems a little bit unfair if I get a certain amount of money every year, and I’m told [the scholarship] is for my achievements, and then it begins to not even make a dent in the actual price of attendance,” Blair said. “I don’t know [if scholarships will increase], but I’d like to.”

All of this information, in the end, leads us back to the simple question of “why?” Tuition was raised by four percent for our current year of 2017-2018, and, while these numbers may sound small and ultimately insignificant, about four percent of $38,900 is quite substantial. So, what gives?

Bruce Arick is the vice president of finances at Butler University. He is also who sent out the initial email informing students of the tuition hike. According to Arick, Butler sets its tuition after comparing is to the approximately 20 schools that Butler competes with when accepting new students.

“And historically we’ve been anywhere from sixth to eighth in price, as far as from highest to lowest,” Arick said. “So we’ve been in sixth to eighth in highest cost between those top 20. As we evaluate where we’re at and we anticipate where they might go, that’s what drives our tuition increase. I can tell you, for the last number of years, we’ve been very comfortable being in that seven-plus-or-minus spot in that group of 20.”

This response makes enough sense if taken at face value. As Arick explained later on, public perception of the university has played a dominant role in why Butler is comfortable with the ranking we hold compared to the other universities we rank ourselves against.

Ultimately, however, this answer seems to satisfy the administration more than the students. Some students have understandable reservations about the increase in tuition, regardless of if it keeps us competitive or not. Jazmine Bowens is a senior studying psychology with a neuroscience minor. Although she will not be affected by this round of tuition increase, she is still angry about it.

“I have friends at the university and I know they can’t afford the increase, so I’m really not happy about it,” Bowens said.

To Bowensㅡand I think many other students, myself includedㅡit goes beyond just making us pay more money; it feels as though there is a complete lack of communication between the administration and students, and our values do not often line up.

“I wish the university had gotten some student input…I would like a breakdown of what [the extra money] is going to, and how the money is being spent,” Bowens said.

She expressed that if it were to go to the betterment of buildings, such as screens in the ResCo windows or outlets in Jordan Hall, that would be understandable.

Simply continuing construction, however, is something that would be harder to justify in her eyes. And while the university may argue more construction ultimately leads to better facilities which in turn leads to higher enrollment, it is a clear example of a significant difference in the agenda of the administration and that of the students.

So, the problem is clear. But what can be done about it? At many schools across the country, there has been a trend of a “tuition guarantee,” in which a promise is made that they tuition a student pays when they start at the university will remain the same throughout all four years of their education (sorry, students who do notㅡor cannotㅡcomplete their degrees in five years).

When I first heard about the tuition guarantee, I thought it proposed an interesting idea that could please all parties involved in paying for a college degree. I was curious as to why Butler did not have a program like this, or whether there was even a reason at all. Naturally, I presented this question to Arick.

“Because they said ‘oh, we’re going to guarantee your tuition for the next four years, they’re now pricing into that first year the fact that they can’t increase. So, instead of doing a three percent increase, they’re probably doing twice that or more to offset that they can’t increase that in year two, three, four,” Arick said.

Again, this makes enough sense on face value, but when you factor in that Butler increased its tuition by four percent last year, we are now at over twice of three percent in only two years. So what are Butler students to expect? Are there going to be more tuition raises? According to Arick, this is safe assumption to make.

“I suspect there will always be some increase. I will tell you since I’ve been hereㅡI got here 1990–the trend of increases has declined,” Arick said. “Over the last two decades, you’re seeing [tuition hikes] go from six to eight, to five to six, to four to five, three to four… I would say that the trend has been, the last several years, you’re seeing most universities land in that two to four percent range, three kind of being an average.”

As a first-year student, Blair is someone who believes a fixed tuition would be the right thing for Butler to do, if only to be transparent from the start.

“It would reduce that sense of surprise for first-years coming in, because nobody tells you that coming in, that it gets raised every year, so it would kind of increase my trust in the system, in that sense,” Blair said.

At the end of the day, after hearing the thoughts of both students and someone on the administrative board, my initial belief holds true: I think the right thing for the university to do would be to have a tuition guarantee. If they are going to keep raising the tuition on us, why not at least tell us up front? Why keep giving us a glimmer of hope that maybe this next year will be different, that maybe the year after that will be the one where we can finally rest easy?

Of course, I am just a student, and Butler has yet to really ask any one of us how we feel.

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