VIEWPOINT: Unaffordability Calls for Reform

In this year’s Georgetown University Student Association election, issues of tuition and college affordability took center stage. While Hoyas perennially doubt that GUSA can effect change within our bureaucratic university, it can help bring about meaningful reform — but only if it first understands the real issues influencing tuition. So, what do we need to tackle in the fight to make Georgetown affordable?

One area for affordability reform is administrative bloat. A key cause behind increased tuition is the expansion of university administrators and their out-of-control salaries. A study conducted by the University of Arkansas found that between 1993 and 2007, administrator salaries and budgets grew twice as much as did the amount of spending on research and teaching at the top 200 universities in the  United States.

This issue of administrative bloat is clearly present at Georgetown. Why is Head Coach John Thompson III paid $2.8 million a year? Although his salary is fun to single out given our current basketball streak, Georgetown has a real issue with overpaying high level administrators and adding unnecessary positions.

For example, in 2015, the campus plan negotiations were coordinated by Associate Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives Lauralyn Lee. When she left, the university hired Chris Murphy to step into her role, but gave him a newly created position titled vice president for government relations and community engagement. He has largely the same portfolio as did Lee, but receives higher pay due to the distinction between associate vice president and vice president.

To be fair, Murphy was also given oversight of the Office of Federal Relations — but this demonstrates the problem with administrative bloat in the first place. Why did the university need to create a new vice president position to which the associate vice president of federal relations must report? Examples like this exist all across the university. If we want to get serious about addressing affordability, we must rein in administrative bloat.

Another area for affordability reform is transparency in choosing university spending projects, as well as its capital improvement plan. We pay exorbitant rates for university housing in relation to its quality and renovations for Henle Village and Village A are chronically under-prioritized by the administration.

Students should be able to give input on how the university spends its tuition dollars to address these quality-of-life issues. The GUSA president should have a quarterly meeting with Georgetown’s vice president of finance, currently David Rubenstein, to review the prioritization of capital improvement projects. Further, the student representative to the board of directors should be given a seat on the BOD Committee on Finance and Administration with the ability to provide a presentation before the committee votes to increase tuition.

There should also be institutionalized student engagement with the Office of Advancement. On an annual basis, GUSA should prepare a proposal of two to three recommended spending projects, such as the long-neglected Kehoe Field. When Advancement pitches gift ideas to potential donors, it can include the student body’s wish list along with the university’s.

A third area for potential affordability reform is the expected family contribution. GUSA should encourage the Office of Student Financial Services, currently overseen by Dean Patricia McWade, to adjust how the expected family contribution is calculated.

Georgetown’s EFC should be more generous when calculating the cost of transportation to and from campus, laundry, printing and textbooks, just to name a few categories. These costs should at least be included in tuition so they can be covered under financial aid.

There are many ways to approach tuition reduction and college affordability. Georgetown is certainly not alone on this issue, but as a university, we can show leadership for peer institutions to follow. As we begin to discuss the way forward, students would be wise to consider a multilayered, long-term approach that can address the roots of the affordability problem: administrative bloat, university spending and calculations for expected family contribution.

 

Reed Howard is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He is a former GUSA deputy chief of staff.

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