The University announced an increase in tuition of over $1,800, or 3.8 percent, compared to the 2015-16 academic year, alongside a $530 increase in room and board costs. The combined total is an estimated $64,000 for students attending during the 2016-17 season, offset by a $122.2 million financial aid budget.
In a statement released alongside the updated tuition figures, University President Joel Seligman said the school takes into account accessibility and affordability when deciding on new tuition and financial aid figures.
The final budget was approved at the Board of Trustees’ meeting in March and reflects the culmination of a more than yearlong discussion process.
“It’s based on the expenses, related to the degree that they’ve increased, and to some extent on the plans and ambitions they have for growth in various areas,” explained Dean Burdick, head of Financial Aid and Admissions.
Tuition represents roughly 60 percent of the total College of Arts, Sciences, & Engineering budget.
Kevin Connell, a Rochester alumni and author of a book on financial aid, argues that tuition increases of this size are a systemic problem.
“The University of Rochester is only a single actor within a national higher education network driven by prestige maximization [and] the perpetual amenities war […] engrossed in the country-club culture of building more, offering more, and spending more.”
In explaining the new tuition, Rochester released a list of institutions that it considers peers with similar increases, including Mt. Holyoke, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT.
Along with the tuition increase, the University’s plan projects a 13.5 percent increase in total financial aid awards, comprising a combination of traditional financial aid and scholarships.
“Looking ahead to next year, we wanted to be more secure in our planning,” Burdick said. “We would need more financial aid in order to continue to attract the best students and to help them be able to stay.”
Currently, students receive an average of $28,344 in grant aid, with 86 percent of the student population qualifying. The recently-hired Director of Financial Aid, Samantha Veeder, explained her reasoning on the double-digit jump by saying that much of the increase for next year is related to larger incoming classes in recent years, combined with increased financial aid awards, and our commitment to renewing assistance based on our merit and need-based institutional policies.”
The increase in Rochester’s financial aid budget comes after last year’s protests over what many students saw as unfair practices by the Financial Aid department. Among their concerns were unexpected decreases in packages, a lack of financial aid counselor stability, and an insufficient quantity of funds going toward financial aid.
One of the main responses to these protests involved the creation of a student financial aid committee, staffed by over a dozen paid student ambassadors to help explain practices to students and synthesize feedback for the financial aid office.
Niru Murali, a sophomore and SA Executive Director of Student Life, led the creation of this school-funded organization.
“The way I envision it,” she said, “the ambassadors will be in charge of planning three or four programs throughout the year. One would be collaborative, the other two would be forums or a roundtable and they would then present that information to Dean Burdick or a Financial Aid staff member.”
Additionally, Murali is one of the 65 percent of students borrowing to pay for tuition and one of the 25 percent of the student population that borrows with parental-backed loans.
Her feelings on the tuition increase are blunt. “I think that’s the difference between me staying another two years and me leaving,” she said.
She pays for college by herself and thinks of tuition in very real terms. “That’s three weeks of work and I work 20 to 30 hours a week, so that hurts me.”
Despite her worries about tuition, Murali feels Financial Aid is on the side of students, especially with the increase. “I know if Dean Burdick is going to be at the table,” she said, “my voice will be represented.”