Editorial: We demand fair tuition prices

Everyone is facing unprecedented challenges. The effects of a global pandemic are far-reaching and far-felt — the emotional strain and the material losses are continuous and hard to cope with. Most individuals and institutions are not insulated from this reality. This certainly applies to young people, whose futures are dependent on an evermore fragile job market.

Rider, too, finds itself in a fragile position. To be sure, the university was in a financially precarious predicament before the burden of a worldwide health crisis. Now, staring down the barrel of a financial fiasco, the administration is asking, as it did last year, for its community to make sacrifices. 

Students are prepared to make sacrifices. In the spring, we left campus at a moment’s notice and diligently completed the rest of our semester online. Our graduating seniors did not walk across a graduation stage. We had so many of our internships canceled. Westminster Choir College (WCC) students had their last moments on the Princeton campus vanish from them.

Now, there is a larger conversation about sacrifice, one that implicates students the most — a conversation that students have been left out of altogether. 

Rider is asking students to pay full tuition for the next semester. While the university will say that it is giving students a break with a one-time grant of $700, that only offsets the cost of a 3.2% increase in tuition from last year and it doesn’t cover the rate for an 2.5% overall increase to tuition, room and board.

University President Gregory Dell’Omo frequently talks about “value proposition” at town halls and university forums. In short, he means that Rider must price as competitively as it can in relation to the value of the education and experiences that students will receive at the school. Certainly, Dell’Omo and the administration must understand that the value proposition for the upcoming semester is greatly diminished and far from the promise of a Rider education.

We can’t pretend that the upcoming semester will be anything like the normal educational and campus experience that students usually have. Many will not be in Lawrenceville — those who are will live in a radically different environment.

Perhaps the worst part is that students were left out of the conversation about tuition, unable to have influence over our collective future. For an administration and Board of Trustees that claim to have student interests at the front of their decision making, this seems to be a massive error of judgment at best. Publicly, student leadership at Rider has also fallen short, only addressing the issue of tuition after an article from The Rider News on July 16.

This continues a troubling pattern at Rider. Student interests seem to fall by the wayside frequently. At the very least, student input does not appear to be valued seriously. This is obviously embodied in the university’s ongoing treatment of WCC students. The process behind that situation and this one are similar. After the university made the consequential decision, whether it was consolidating WCC or charging full tuition price, student input was then allowed for more marginal decision making. Student leadership at Rider was happy to take part in the less effectual process — it was not prepared to seriously support students in the major fights.

Certainly, the administration will say that tuition revenue is essential to its financial future. That may be a fair point. After running multi-million dollar budget deficits for years, with major changes to higher education, the university was resource-needy before the pandemic. We imagine the internal deliberations are much more dire now.

The problem is, that conversation never happened. Who better to have a conversation about financial troubles with than a generation that has over $1 trillion in student loan debt?

While we recognize that the university is in a tough position financially, we ask that the administration have the same recognition for students. In the midst of a major financial crisis, students will look for jobs in a depression-era economy. Many of our families have lost income and opportunities because of the virus. Many of us already shoulder tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. We are prepared to make sacrifices for the institution that we love — it doesn’t appear that the institution is prepared to make sacrifices for us. 

Other universities have made adjustments to pricing for the upcoming semester. These moves, if only marginally, have cut costs for students. This includes cutting certain fees, offering discounted room and board rates, freezing tuition hikes or lowering tuition altogether. Rider has not adopted any of these measures and student leadership does not seem to have the political will to push the issue.

At Rider specifically, and in higher education more broadly, the financial adjustments that have been made do not accurately reflect the educational and social experiences that students will have.

So, as Dell’Omo frequently does, let’s focus on the value proposition. Does the administration truly believe that students will receive the same quality of education this semester as they would in normal circumstances? If so, how can it justify that argument? For so many of Rider’s students, classes will be conducted entirely online. There is a huge discrepancy in cost between institutions that are based around online education and a university such as Rider. For example, the University of Phoenix, primarily an online institution, charges just under $400 for each credit. For the average student that will complete 15 credits in a semester, Rider is asking for over $1,500 a credit. Very few students, if any, are going to get what we pay for. 

Students deserve fair treatment. As we have argued in the past, student interests should be at the forefront of every decision made at our university. If those interests are not being represented, then student leadership should be ready, time and again, to advocate fiercely for their peers. Student government has a duty to serve its student body. No matter the friction it may cause in their highly-coveted relationship with administrators, senior student government officials cannot abdicate this responsibility. To leave this issue untouched would be an abject failure. There is a chance for meaningful action here. It should not be squandered.

Likewise, Dell’Omo and the Board of Trustees have an obligation to ensure that Rider lives up to its much-touted “value proposition.” In a fall semester amid a pandemic, where the value of Rider’s classes, engaged learning experiences, and formerly-vibrant campus life will all be significantly diminished, the tuition, room and board fees must likewise be significantly reduced. That would truly honor Dell’Omo’s notion and promise of value.

This editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News Editorial Board.

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