In almost any business sector, customers know what they’re paying for. A person who purchases a vehicle has access to its documentation. A person who buys a home has the right to inspect it. However, the same does not hold true when students purchase an education — especially one from USC.
On Tuesday, the Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution aimed at increasing transparency within University spending by expanding and clarifying University financial reports, coupled with a call for the reinstatement of the University Student Fee Advisory Committee and a demand for an immediate tuition freeze. Not only is this resolution a step in the right direction for the University’s fiscal policy, but it might be the much-needed reversal of a phenomenon destined to ruin the University’s economic diversity and render it unable to compete with more affordable universities.
It is no secret that these changes were a long time coming — USC is one of the few academic institutions of its caliber that has yet to implement something as simple and obviously necessary as a tuition freeze. From Ivy Leagues like Princeton University to the public greats of the UC System, most other universities have taken this step already. Every year that USC seeks to continue to periodically — and inexplicably — raise tuition is another year that it loses a competitive edge not only in attracting applicants, but in retaining top-tier students.
In fact, the struggle to retain students already enrolled is no longer far-fetched. According to USG’s student poll, 76 percent of respondents knew someone who transferred out of USC or considered taking a leave of absence because of rising tuition costs.
Most importantly, an unpredictable price tag makes attendance at USC almost completely out of the question for lower middle-class and working-class families that depend on a predictable, steady number to be able to project whether they will be able to afford University expenses. When qualified and talented students from average or modest financial conditions are burdened with USC’s exorbitant tuition costs — in addition to its silent promise to increase that number — it is no surprise that they would turn to a lower-cost institution of equal caliber, like UC Berkeley or UCLA, both of which have successfully implemented tuition freezes. With these issues on the table, one thing becomes clear: USC’s habit of increasing tuition costs not only places undue burden on its student body, but also has the capacity to impair the University’s ability to remain competitive.
Of course, one could make the argument that these tuition increases would perhaps sting a little less if the student body were to know exactly where their money was going — perhaps if this year’s $2,000 increase had been allocated toward a development of a certain set of academic programs or a resource center, to increase non-tenure track salaries or grant benefits to non-academic employees — maybe then, the lack of tuition freeze could be understood. However, the University’s financial report for this fiscal year was exceedingly unclear: a 72-page PDF report mired in hundreds of projections and graphs but, like a politician’s debate response, no real information — not on where the tuition was going nor who was really on the receiving end of it. To add insult to injury, University spending was at least once discussed with the student body through the University Student Fee Advisory Committee — which the University eventually dissolved, according to Graduate Student Government, on the basis of undesirable responses.
When students lose avenues through which they can interact with the University and become informed about financial figures, awareness about this information is quickly lost. According to the USG poll, 93 percent of respondents did not know where their total tuition dollars went, and as for the increases, 98 percent did not know why their tuition increased $2,000 for the 2015-2016 academic year. To ameliorate this particular problem, USG has asked the University to publish a report or create an interactive website to better illuminate where tuition funds are going. Additionally, 84 percent believed a tuition freeze would alleviate financial burden for students. Even if the University refuses to decrease its heavily expensive tuition fee, it could perhaps agree to make it stagnant.
The fact of the matter is that for a University that charges as much as USC for tuition and peripheral fees, to continue to raise the price is almost laughable. Not only does it place undue burden on the existing student body, but it discriminates against students without privileged financial resources and discourages prospective students from attendance. The lack of transparency as to where these funds are going increases mistrust among the University community and amplifies the sting of the same tuition increases the University fails to explain. Students deserve to be able to predict the cost of their higher education, to access the University regardless of their socioeconomic standing and to rely on their University to responsibly and openly disseminate financial information. For these reasons, USG’s resolution was absolutely necessary — and must have maximum administrative support.