I sat down to write an opinion piece on St. Mary’s tuition, and after many hours of Facebook, a few days of fall break, and (too many) re-runs of Reba, I realized I wasn’t sure what my opinion was.
I know what I pay to attend St. Mary’s, and I have a relative idea of what other people pay depending on what state they’re from or possible scholarships that they could have received. Obviously these can differ a great deal, and in general, there is no lack of demographic groups on campus that I think I could point to. I guess my question was: Since we have a strongly diverse student body, why do our tuition rates matter?
As a sophomore, I have only been on campus for one round of tuition increases. Last year, I remember feeling indignant when I first heard that tuition might increase at St. Mary’s. I had worked so hard to come here—I had filled out countless scholarship applications (and received a few), kept my grades high before and during college (with the exception of any math grades), and became involved in organizations and causes that I cared about. All of my hard work paid off when I received a merit-based scholarship from St. Mary’s, which is conditional on my performance at St. Mary’s.
Yet, last year tuition rose (by 6%). Housing costs rose for all students, and student fees were increased. It’s important to remember that while St. Mary’s is a public school, and should be accessible to any student, St. Mary’s must have a relatively high tuition in order to offer us an education that is similar to other small private liberal arts colleges. So in terms of St. Mary’s tuition revenues, we should recognize that St. Mary’s does try to do more for us with less than a private school budget.
However, tuition rates for all students, both instate and out of state, affect what kinds of students will be able to afford a St. Mary’s education. If we want St. Mary’s to be a diverse community, our tuition and our financial aid need to reflect that goal. Excessively high tuition will alienate students who may feel like they are unable to attend St. Mary’s.
In conjunction with higher tuition, the types of financial aid that are provided to students by St. Mary’s will dictate what kinds of students want to call St. Mary’s their home. President Urgo has discussed a move towards more need-based aid for students and away from merit-based awards.
However attractive need-based aid may be for students who need it, St. Mary’s needs to provide merit-based aid, too.Merit-based aid encourages hard-working, involved students to join our college, regardless of their financial situation.
A merit-based award shows a student that their academic, extracurricular, and service efforts are valued and desired at St. Mary’s. To some students, like myself, merit-based aid makes up the difference between attending St. Mary’s or another cheaper instate school.
To maintain a student body that is as involved as it is diverse, merit-based aid needs to remain a feature at St .Mary’s. What kind of honors college would we be if we didn’t reward students for all of the hard work that they do?
To answer my own question: tuition rates matter because they will affect the make-up of our student body. We need stable, relatively affordable tuition as well as both need-based and merit-based financial aid. If we are unable to attract hardworking and diverse students to St. Mary’s, as a college we risk losing the active, crazy, intelligent, quirky, and diverse student body that makes us who we are.