The True Cost of a Tuition Freeze at AU

[Multimedia Element Here: If I were to make a multimedia component for this story, I would make a podcast in which Violeta Ettle, an AU budget expert, would explain the top three things students need to know about the consequences of freezing tuition.]

AU will spend $1.25 billion in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Tuition and fees account for more than 80% of the school’s revenue, but in the event of a tuition freeze, an administrator said financial aid could be one of the first expenditures they cut.

More than 85 percent of undergraduates who voted in Student Government elections this spring are in favor of a tuition freeze, according to data from the student coalition Education Not Debt (END), which put a tuition freeze referendum on the ballot. Despite the overwhelming support for fixing the cost of attending AU, the consequences of this decision are more complicated than they may seem.

Violeta Ettle, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Photo source.
Violeta Ettle, Vice Provost for Academic Administration.

According to Violeta, ‘V.’, Ettle, Vice Provost for Academic Administration and an expert on AU’s budget, a tuition freeze is the absence of a tuition increase or decrease in a given fiscal year.

“Since the University is a private university, our major source of revenue to cover our expenses is tuition and fees,” Ettle said. “When you freeze the tuition, that means that we cannot have an increase in any of our expenses.”

The most recent Budget Report from the President shows that tuition and fees make up 81 percent of the school’s revenue budget in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Financial aid costs account for about 20 percent of the University expenditure budget in the same years, making it the third largest expenditure category behind personnel and supplies. But Ettle said a tuition freeze would likely impact financial aid more than other expenditures.

“If there’s a tuition freeze, the financial aid will also be frozen, in which case, we will not be able to give any increase in financial aid to students,” she said. “We also cannot increase the number of students who will be receiving financial aid.”

Devin Moore, SPA junior, said he is against a tuition freeze.
Devin Moore, SPA junior, said he is against a tuition freeze.

Devin Moore, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, said that’s why he voted ‘no’ in the tuition freeze poll this spring. Moore is a first generation college student, and worries that freezing tuition would not only reduce financial aid for students in need, but would also limit programming for student who need help transitioning to college.

“It limits the events that we put on in order to reach out to those students, creating a less diverse and inclusive community,” he said. “If the University doesn’t cut other departments, they would significantly cut financial aid, which ironically does not help the people that tuition freeze activists want to help.”

Kim Szarmach, SOC sophomore, hopes AU will reconsider budget allocation.
Kim Szarmach, SOC sophomore, hopes AU will reconsider budget allocation.

But Kim Szarmach, a sophomore in the School of Communication and a member of END, said she hopes to see the University look to other budget areas to cut before dipping into financial aid.

“We’re not asking the University to just freeze tuition and then leave everything else as it is,” she said. “We’re asking the University to freeze tuition so that they have incentive to reconsider how they allocate money. They can be more responsible about it.”

Szarmach said she hopes administrators will consider the results of the referendum in their budget deliberations.

The University Budget Committee, comprised of faculty, adminsitrators and students, will discuss the budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 beginning in August and will submit a proposal to the Board of Trustees for approval in February, Ettle said. The committee will also hold at least two town halls for students to voice their perspectives, she said.

She added that in her more than 30 years of experience at AU, the University has never frozen tuition, and only a major economic shift would prompt such a decision. Past budget reports show tuition typically rises by about 3 percent, or just over $1,000, each fiscal year.

Although a tuition freeze is unlikely given the state of the economy, Ettle insisted it would still be impactful, and Szarmach said END will continue to push for drastic budget restructuring in the coming budget cycle.

“A tuition freeze in one year might not have very severe consequences, but a tuition freeze that extends beyond one year could be catastrophic,” she said.

Weigh in on AU’s tuition and take our poll below:


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