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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Pres. Lawrence discusses rising tuition costs

Published: December 5, 2014
Section: News

University President Frederick Lawrence joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan of Boston Public Radio on Nov. 20 to discuss the cost of a higher education and what makes Brandeis a unique institution.

The interview was conducted as part of a series with other leaders and thinkers that shape the Boston area. In just the last two weeks, Braude and Eagan have welcomed, among others, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and Representative Michael Capuano on the show to discuss notable current events. The interview started out with a playful narrative of Brandeis’ motto, “Truth, even unto its innermost parts.”

Lawrence explained the university motto through his distinctive presidential lens. “It’s about the journey, and it’s about the vision of trying to pursue issues even if it takes you in tough places and uncomfortable places and being open to new experiences,” he said.

The conversation was quickly steered toward the cost of college, and specifically the historically high cost that students must now pay for a higher education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between the 2001–02 and 2011–12 school years, prices for undergraduate tuition, room and board at public institutions rose 40 percent, and prices at private nonprofit institutions rose 28 percent. Braude made reference to a recent CNN documentary, and specifically noting its continual presence in the news this past decade, posed a question to Lawrence. He said, “Is college worth the cost?”

“The short answer? Absolutely,” Lawrence said, but he continued in greater depth about what exactly the cost of college entails, especially for Brandeis students.

“A school like Brandeis, two-thirds of our students are on financial aid,” Lawrence said. “For some, that is a complete free ride, that we cover through scholarships from donations and endowment. For some, it’s smaller scholarships that can make a big difference.”

Students who graduate from Brandeis with debt graduate with an average of about $28,000 in debt, almost exactly the national average for private institutions. While tuition from 2013 on has still increased, it has grown less than it has in the years before that, according to U.S. News & World Report. However, because the growth in financial aid has not kept pace with rising tuition costs, students are still paying more than they did.

Matt Brondoli ’14 had taken the high price of tuition for granted his whole life, but after studying abroad in Europe, where on average the education is much cheaper than the United States, he is appalled.

“Education is the most important thing for any society,” he said. “It should be funded completely by the government and be free and equal for everyone.”

Lawrence said that the investment is still a good one, not just because of the immediate benefits of graduating with a college degree.

“It will make them who they are in terms of their lives as citizens and as members of their society, but it will make them agile and flexible, because they’re going to have to re-educate themselves multiple times.”

Lawrence also talked about how, in today’s fast-paced world, a college education is even more important than ever. Brandeis, and universities in general, are now preparing students for not only their first job, but also their 10th job. The days where a person stays in one position at a company for the extremely long term are quickly fading, and a college degree, specifically a liberal arts one, prepares its students for jobs down the line as well, Lawrence said.

During the interview, the trio also talked about costs for Brandeis students and ways the university is trying to reduce its own tuition costs for students. Brandeis is attempting to reduce its costs by reexamining insurance policies and restructuring a myriad of other programs.

The extravagances that some universities have gone to in a bid to attract students was also touched upon, such as gourmet food in the dining halls or hotel-quality dormitories. Lawrence acknowledged the presence of such spending in the higher education market, but insisted that Brandeis has never engaged in a tactic of the sort.

“Brandeis competes on quality of access to faculty and quality of teaching,” he said. “Our buildings are good buildings, and our dorms are good dorms. We never got involved in that arms race.”

Many students, however, have strong opinions about the price tag of Brandeis’ tuition.

Kris Steinhart ’14 said that it is not only the exorbitantly high tuition costs, but also the way in which most students have to extend its payment over their foreseeable future.

“It makes me anxious and nervous about the future. I’m going to be stuck paying back these loans for a long time when I get out of school,” Steinhart said.

Tudor Livadaru ’14 also disagrees that the cost of college is worth it and believes that students cave into the system because of the strong disadvantages from not receiving higher education.

“I think the whole system is a joke,” he said. “How do you charge students $60,000 a year for a college education? Thank goodness we go to a decent school that ‘might’ put us on the right direction to find a decent job.”

Livadaru also said he believes it is now more about the money than the growth of students. He reasons that, unless a student is pre-med or going to a technical school, classes don’t prepare their pupils for the real world by teaching them what they will eventually face. Furthermore, he argues, our education system rewards students who binge study for 48 hours before their exams just as much as the students who spend the whole semester learning the material. It isn’t even important that the latter student is a lot more likely to remember that information, because it’s unlikely it will help him further down the road.

Livadaru echoed Brondoli’s previously mentioned sentiments and mentioned the need for change.

“The system needs to be changed,” he said. “The U.S. needs to look elsewhere for better answers because the system here is a joke.”

The interview ended discussing rather lighter topics. Lawrence revealed that the best thing at the kosher deli on campus is turkey on rye, and the three discussed his career before Brandeis and academia working under who would later become New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a lawyer specializing in civil rights.