NYU Doesn’t Really Care About Affordability

Rah, rah! Sound the trumpets! NYU is only raising the cost of attendance by 3.1%, the lowest percentage increase in 21 years!

Combine that with the 5.8% increase in financial aid and, wow, the administration must really heart us undergrads.

But wait a minute. Considering we’re sitting at 10% unemployment, millions have seen their wages cut, and college nest eggs have taken a beating in the stock market, this certainly should be the lowest percentage increase in years.

And, yet, the statistics NYU trots out really don’t tell the full story. By relying on percentages rather than dollar amounts, NYU is tempting us not to notice that, even for those on financial aid, we just keep paying more.

Below is a chart of the cost of attendance (COA) MINUS the average NYU financial aid (FA) grant (all adjusted for inflation, of course). This gives us a sense of how much students on financial aid pay out of their own pocket each year in direct contributions, loans, and (hopefully) other scholarship help.

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The 2010-2011 projection was calculated by directly increasing the 2009 numbers by the percentages NYU just announced. This is based on an assumption that the average grant percentage increase will match the FA percentage increase. This is unlikely since the number of students receiving aid will likely change somewhat, altering the average, but it still paints the picture.

When NYU announces its percentages, it sounds like financial aid is going way beyond the cost of attendance. But those are only rates. The hard numbers? The cost of attendance is going up $1672; the average FA grant is going up $812. That’s because the COA is much higher than FA – small percentage increases in the former demolish larger ones in the latter.

Despite NYU’s constant assurances that affordability is a high priority right now, I just don’t see it. This says it all:

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Considering that the price is going up for the average student on financial aid (in the midst of high unemployment), those numbers aren’t likely to go down anytime soon.

The national average debt for students graduating with loans in 2008 was $23,200; at NYU, it was $34,814.

*

The Administration is quick to point out what we’ve heard over and over again – we have low per capita endowment, the recession nailed our investments, we have to balance priorities, etc. All true. No disputing it. The University can’t just grind to a halt in order to charge us less.

But, in a year where inflation is negative, did tuition have to go up 3.5%?* (Recall that last year, tuition increased by exactly the 2008 inflation rate, keeping the real cost the same). And, remember, NYU’s investments, compared to other large universities, have performed outstandingly despite a 15% drop – the best among those with $1 billion+ endowments.

Really, why doesn’t the University just stop increasing the number of students for a few years? By all means, pay the faculty, pay the staff, grow the school, just stop adding students. That way, the per capita endowment goes up and you can actually start making our education more affordable.

The constant spin about priorities is awful when what it really comes down to is that the University doesn’t really care about affordability for its undergrads – we subsidize the grad students’ education. (Hint: want prestige? Get professors and grad students. Undergrads, not so much.)

But on we go, as the “serious” WSN acts as NYU apologist #1, faithfully reprinting administration talking points and quoting one girl as saying, “I’d rather tuition didn’t go up, but the fact that they’re helping people afford it is nice to know.”

Well, it certainly would be nice to know. But, alas, I just don’t see it. And, once again, NYU got a record number of applications, which means they can easily ignore any and all pressure to make a serious effort to bring down costs, because there’s always another Tischie waiting in the wings, willing to drown in debt in order to go to a great school.

* I asked NYU Spokesman John Beckman about 2009’s deflation and what that meant for tuition increases. He wrote:

The inflation rate doesn’t correspond to the real “basket” of goods and services an institution of higher education confronts. A university has ongoing investments in such items as technology and bricks and mortar that the average citizen does not. An average citizen living in an apartment with his or her family may be able to pick up and easily move to a less expensive apartment; that’s not so easy to accomplish with an entire dorm. And colleges and universities tend to – or at least should tend to – make decisions with an eye on the long horizon; that means we might spend a bit more in the present – say, to build a co-generation plant or to buy a building in which we have been renting office space – with the understanding that it will save NYU money over the long run.

However, the deflation was largely led by falling food and energy prices, two things NYU definitely pays for and, consequently, paid less for in 2009.

Thanks to John Beckman for supplying me with data and for putting up with my pestering. Image via.

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  1. Melvin Felix says

    Thanks for the real story. I was pretty angry when I read about the percentages (in the WSN issue) as if the “larger” increase in financial aid would actually cover the increase in tuition. I can’t believe they’re being so blatantly misleading. They went so far as to say: “We appreciate that, despite an extremely weak economy, increases in financial aid awards will outpace the increases in tuition, housing and fees.”

  2. says

    @ Melvin Felix: It’s not really that WSN is being blatantly misleading – it’s that they fail to do any hard thinking about what NYU puts in their press release. It’s more that they’re being willfully misled.

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