On Wednesday, USC announced that tuition for the 2017-2018 academic year will rise by roughly 3.93 percent of the current total. In its press release, the University marked the tuition increase as a five-year low, while highlighting increases in the financial aid offered.
“USC’s average net tuition is ranked 134th out of all private, nonprofit four-year universities thanks to its generous financial aid packages,” the press release stated. “The new charges for undergraduate tuition during the 2017-18 academic year will total $53,448.”
The University’s treatment of the perennial tuition hikes begs an examination of what administrative transparency should look like. Instead of misleading students with positive messaging surrounding the ever-increasing price tag, USC should respect the immense challenge of college affordability by clearly highlighting where students’ tuition dollars go.
While the press release did not contain technical inaccuracies, it is worth noting that crucial context was excluded. In terms of transparency, the University is moving in the right direction by disclosing this increase in tuition, as opposed to years past when students were greeted with a rude awakening of thousands of dollars in additional tuition costs upon opening up their USC e-bill.
But improved communication means little for students who fail to see what they are receiving for paying more. Though the end-of-year budget report details University expenses, the press release says little about the justification for rising tuition besides reaffirming USC’s commitment to financial aid.
Despite the fact that the 3.93 percent tuition increase is low for USC, it is above the 3.6 percent average tuition increase by private colleges, according to data published by the College Board. Meanwhile, the median family income did not grow at all from the beginning to the end of 2016, forcing families to shoulder the growing costs of college with little means to do so.
As a private university, USC is certainly not legally obligated to divulge the allocations of its funds. However, the onus is on the University to set a precedent among other institutions to be forthright about their investments with student money.
USC should look to other universities as a model for tuition transparency. For example, when Point Park University experienced a 3.9 percent tuition hike for the 2015-2016 academic year, the university president released a statement explaining that the increased cost of attendance would support “financial aid, core curriculum, staffing new courses, a program to help freshmen to graduate on time, campus WiFi, campus safety and campus service upgrades.”
A transparent USC would not only say where students’ money is going, but provide hard numbers to show why a tuition increase is justified. Our tuition also undoubtedly contributes to tenured professors and administrative salaries and funding for athletic programs — all of which are on the rise for universities as a whole. But expansion projects at the University, such as the construction of the USC Village, leave students wondering how much tuition funds new buildings and amenities. These questions were fully ignored in the press release.
Additionally, while USC’s focus on affordability for low-income students is laudable, the University ranks 10th in terms of highest tuition among all private schools. And tuition is far from the only cost of attending an elite university. Rising costs of additional expenses such as books, housing and food should not be kept nebulous but rather clearly delineated, especially in Los Angeles, where standards of living are high.
Even with generous financial aid, many Trojans struggle to cover basic necessities, much less keep up with tuition increases. Regardless, higher education should be a right, not a privilege afforded to the most affluent in order to thrive in today’s competitive economy. Research shows that obtaining a college degree today is the educational equivalent of receiving a high school diploma during our parents’ generation. The contrast, however, is that a high school diploma does not come with a $70,000-plus contingency. The least the University can do is to inform students what they signed up for.
Given these realities, the statement released yesterday missed the mark. It failed to paint a realistic picture of what it means to attend USC — one that, for many students, is saddled with economic burdens.
Daily Trojan Spring 2017 Editorial Board