Gap between tuition, assistance increases

Over the past few years, there has been growing concern regarding what many refer to as the “tuition gap.” This gap is due to a combination of a skyrocketing cost of attendance and faltering financial aid. As a result, students have been burdened with higher personal costs than they originally intended, and some are simply unable to keep up.

However, graduate student Joseph Perchiacca ’08, a member of the Executive Board, says the issue has many facets. One of the main problems, he claims, is that tuition has been increasing by more than 5 percent each year, for several years. This is faster than inflation and has led to a massive increase in the cost of attendance at the Institute. When he first arrived at RPI eight years ago, the total cost was “somewhere around $40,000–42,000.” The total for the next academic year, though, is set to approach $62,000. Jonathan Stack ’13, another member of the E-Board, claims that tuition is “growing at a slower rate than institutional financial aid.”

Both Perchiacca and Stack agree in saying that a major cause for concern would be the various cuts to federal grants and loans. While Rensselaer has added to the amount of aid it provides, Perchiacca mentioned it has not provided enough to compensate for the loss in federal funding. The cuts to federal aid, both students say, have greatly contributed to the tuition gap. Perchiacca said this gap has increased by approximately 15 percent over the last two years. Stack supports this claim by reporting that the percentage of students whose financial needs have been met completely has “significantly declined over the last three to four years.” The Financial Aid Office, on the other hand, provides statistics showing that approximately 66 percent of students received need-based aid and 31 percent received merit-based aid.

In regard to the issue, Perchiacca said the administration has not been very forthcoming. When asked about what the Institute is trying to do to address the growing tuition gap, he said they generally dismiss the question, preventing any potential discussion.

Many of the relatively recent policies enacted by the administration, Perchiacca claimed have not helped the situation, particularly the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative. This has greatly impacted the sophomore class, he stated. By being required to live in on-campus housing and accepting meal plans, these students must deal with a situation that is “more expensive than it probably needs to be.”

Sodexo has made it easier for sophomores to cope with the additional cost, Perchiacca mentioned, by implementing new meal plans and reducing the amount students are forced to pay due to CLASS. But, he admitted, this aid is limited and only slightly lessens the financial burden faced by these students.

Recently, RPI decided to reintroduce the J-semester, Perchiacca said. He speculated that this is an attempt to pick up funds to support the Institute itself and potentially increase the financial aid it provides by “taking in a semester’s worth of tuition for a single month.” However, he believed that this will have a minimal effect on the overall tuition gap situation. This, he commented, seems to be the only action Rensselaer has taken thus far to address its financial problems. Until now, he claimed they have simply stated that “there is no money” when referring to the Institute’s stance regarding the tuition gap.

The statistics provided by the Financial Aid Office indicate a financial situation that does not support the argument made by many in the Rensselaer community. And, according to the U.S. News & World Report, only 70 percent of students have borrowed by the time they graduate, a statistic they state is average among private institutions. As such, Stack stressed that despite the fact that the “sticker price” for RPI is still rather high, the financial situation for students, in general, is not quite as bad as concerned members of the Institute make it out to be.